Saturday, 31 July 2010

Cameron and Miliband holiday in Cornwall (but not together, obviously)

Downing Street is being naturally coy about the precise dates that David Cameron plans to holiday in Cornwall this year, but the coming week looks like a good bet. Labour leadership hopeful Ed Miliband is already here (I think you can hear him on BBC Radio Cornwall on Tuesday.) The chances of them all meeting for a beach barbecue are probably quite slim, but the question on everyone's lips is obvious. Where's Nick?

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Only three Cornish schools apply to become academies

It looks as if, so far, only three schools have applied to opt out of Cornwall Council control and become academies. None is a secondary school.

The schools which want to go it alone are Sandy Hill Community Primary, St Austell, St Buryan Primary near Penzance and Trenance Infant School, Newquay.

The full Department for Education list is here.

What I find interesting about this very short list is why it is so different to the list of those which expressed an interest (27 in Cornwall.) Could it be that having looked at the implications, two dozen Cornish schools have had second thoughts?

Found: the minister for second home voters

Mark HarperStep forward Mark Harper, the Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean, and Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, who is due to meet North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson to talk about the issue "soon."

Given the coalition government's enthusiasm for dealing with as much democratic reform as possible in a single measure, perhaps Dan can persuade Mark to accept an ammendment to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. It would seem strange to lump together the Alternative Vote system with constituency boundaries (and reducing the number of MPs) and then make second home voters the subject of a separate Bill.

Meanwhile, I look forward to seeing the text of Cornwall Council chief executive Kevin Lavery's letter to Nick Clegg on this issue "soon" - it's now more than two weeks since I asked for a copy.

Remember remember the 6th of September

and not just because it marks the end of the school holidays.

6th September is in my diary because that's the day Parliament is due to give a second reading to the Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Bill - which could spell either the end of Cornwall's exclusive ownership over its own constituencies, or the end of the coalition government.

This is Nick Clegg's "big reform" Bill, aimed at paving the way for a referendum on scrapping the first-past-the-post voting system in favour of the Alternative Vote system. The Bill is also intended to re-draw the boundaries of Parliamentary constituencies to make sure they all contain the same number of voters.

And that's the problem. Because the Bill aims at radical reform in both areas, Labour has spotted the chance to whip its MPs into voting against - even though Labour's election manifesto promised a referendum on AV. And because around 50 Conservative MPs are known to be unhappy about AV in principle, there is a chance the government might be defeated. And if the government cannot deliver on voting reform, why would the Liberal Democrats continue to keep it in power?

But the main reason I'm fascinated by the Bill's second reading is that we will have the chance to see how Cornwall's six coalition MPs vote, given that support for the government would almost certainly mean the end of Cornwall and the introduction of at least one "Devonwall" constituency.

Conservative Sheryll Murrary (South East Cornwall) and Liberal Democrat Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) have pledged to fight against a Devonwall constituency, as has Cornwall Council. Yet the vote of every coalition MP might now be vital if Nick Clegg's Bill is to survive. Putting it bluntly, will they vote for Cornwall or vote to stay in power? I'm sure this is a tricky issue for some Devon MPs as well.

6th September is also the deadline for anyone wanting to bid to become a Local Enterprise Partnership.

Who will run Cornwall's Local Enterprise Partnership?

Even when Cornwall councillors vote unanimously on a subject, they usually find something to disagree about. Such was the case on Tuesday when the council voted unanimously to back a Cornwall (and Isles of Scilly?) Local Enterprise Partnership to replace the dying Regional Development Agency.

The council's Conservative leader Alec Robertson spoke in support of a body which would be "acceptable" to the business community. This drew an immediate response from the Liberal Democrat's Alex Folkes, who questioned why the business community should be in the driving seat - the LEPs, after all, will be spending taxpayers' cash.

For some at County Hall, the main issue is to get a LEP which allows Cornwall to run its own affairs, free from Devon. But whose Cornwall? If we're not careful, we could end up with important decisions about strategic infrastructure investments being taken by an unelected collection of small-town Chambers of Commerce.

The business community, as ever, is streets ahead of Cornwall Council and is organising meetings even as I write about the sort of relationship it wants to have with taxpayers' money. The council has a month to get its act together - the government's deadline for applications to set up LEPs is early September.

Who agrees with Nick?

BBC political editor Nick Robinson has a fascinating documentary on BBC2 at 9pm tonight - I strongly encourage you to watch it. I suspect that many of Cornwall's Liberal Democrats will conclude that their leader, Nick Clegg, does not emerge with much credit.

Nick Robinson charts the five days which followed the general election stalemate in May, when Clegg was able to negotiate simultaneously with David Cameron and Gordon Brown.

According to the documentary, when Clegg talked to Cameron, he exaggerated the offers on voting reform he claimed to have received from Brown. And when he spoke to his own party, including his backbench MPs, Clegg exaggerated the concerns of the Bank of England about the need for immediate, deep cuts in public spending (reversing his party's economic policy in the process.)

It's the sort of thing that gets politics and the pursuit of power a bad name. Love it.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Gentleman Jim

I tried to snatch a quick interview with Cornwall Councillor Jim Currie yesterday. "Jim, can I...." was as far as I got. "No, you cannot," he snapped. "You never report anything accurately." And he stormed off.

Cabinet vs Committee

Cornwall Council leader Alec Robertson yesterday promised Lib Dem Alex Folkes that he had "an open mind" about whether the council should adopt a committee structure, rather than the present "all powerful" cabinet system.

The current system means that just 10 councillors (out of 123) make nearly all the important decisions. A committee structure would be more transparent, but would also entail the surrender of some political power and might, on occasion, be subject to potential ambush.

I suspect that some of Alec's less genial colleagues in the Conservative group will be advising him that if he is indeed considering a change, that there's no need to rush.

£110m Council cuts are on top of this year's cuts

For clarity, I should point out that the £17m Cornwall Council cuts which we've been reporting on BBC Radio Cornwall in recent weeks are completely separate from the £110 million which the council announced (with the loss of 2,000 jobs) yesterday.

When I asked chief executive Kevin Lavery how the £17m would be saved, he told me the cuts would be applied precisely where central government had dictated - there would be no shuffling of money between departments or budget headings before April 2011. I put it to him that the government was saying local authorities now had the "freedom" and discretion to cut where they wanted.

"It really annoys me when they say that," he said. "We are too far down the road with spending plans for this year to make significant changes before April. So if government takes away the money for a certain project, it will stop. Simple as that. We don't have the ability to go round taking it away from other projects."

The £110m/2,000 jobs cuts package will be considered at a Cornwall Council cabinet meeting on 13th October, debated at the November full council meeting and implemented in January.

Andrew rebels

Hansard records that the St Ives Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George voted against his coalition government on its Academies Bill. Andrew is concerned about the impact academies might have on other local schools.

His fellow Lib Dem MPs, Stephen Gilbert (St Austell & Newquay) and Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) voted with Conservatives Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall), George Eustice (Camborne & Redruth) and Sarah Newton (Truro & Falmouth) to help the government win a majority of 92.

Two more Cornish schools interested in opting out

Since I blogged about academies last month, two more Cornish schools have expressed an interest in opting out of Cornwall Council control. They are Bodmin College and Pencalenick Special School. This brings the total "expressing an interest" to 27. The full DfE list is here. I hope to have a list of those schools which have definitely applied to become academies soon.

Win some, lose some

Arrived at County Hall yesterday to be both surprised and delighted that the council had reserved a parking space for me. I suspect it was for the BBC, rather than for me personally, but even so I'd like to thank whoever was responsible.

A few hours later, though, Cornwall councillors were treated to an hour-long briefing about the 2,000 job cuts in the council chamber. I asked chief executive Kevin Lavery if I could watch and listen from the public gallery. "I'm afraid not," he said. "It's a private meeeting."

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Mebyon Kernow splits

Another rare sight in the Cornwall Council chamber this afternoon was that of a split in the ranks of Mebyon Kernow councillors - rare because even at the best of times there are only three of them, and today there were only two.

Councillors spent what seemed like hours debating the creation of a new harbours board, to embrace the ports of Truro, Penryn and Newquay. MK councillor Stuart Cullimore was very keen to include the word "Cornish" in the title and pushed for a vote. But then MK leader Dick Cole, sitting next to Stuart, voted against the idea.

Later I asked him why. "What about all the other ports in Cornwall?" he asked. "This new board has only three of them."

"So the new board isn't Cornish enough?" I asked, knowing that this particular blog post would happily write itself.

Alec's first defeat

Not sure if it was a milestone, or even a signpost, but Cornwall Council leader Alec Robertson went down to his first defeat in a full council vote this afternoon.

Mebyon Kernow's Dick Cole successfully defeated Alec's proposed ammendment to a resolution calling on the government to set up a special commission to investigate systemic structural underfunding of public services in Cornwall, particularly education and health.

Alec had preferred, as an alternative, a form of words which simply encouraged Cornwall's six coalition MPs to keep up their good work of drawing the underfunding to the government's attention. He lost by 42 votes to 34 and saw 4 members of his cabinet voting against him.

"It was a free vote; I won't be losing any sleep over it," Alec tells me.

"I'm quite pleased," says Dick. "A commission will underline the point that Cornwall doesn't get its fair share."

This is a story which we'd planned to run on BBC Radio Cornwall in the morning but which has been squeezed out, for now, by the 2,000 job losses which the council announced later in the afternoon. I think the plan is to run a report on Thursday, but if there isn't room I'll try to post it on this blog as soon as I can.

I wish I'd been wrong

Back in February Laurence Reed asked me, live on air, for my best estimate as to how many Cornwall Council jobs would be lost as a result of post-general election spending cuts. I hadn't seen the question coming so waffled a bit while trying to do the maths, and eventually got to the figure of 2,000 - based on the £7 million redundancy pot, the average wage of a council employee, the need to save more than £100 million over four years and the fact that wages are the biggest single cost on the council's budget.

This earned me a rebuke from the council, which accused me of scaremongering. A few weeks later a number of think tanks and academics began publishing their own estimates, with most settling on a figure of between one in six and one in ten public sector jobs likely to get the chop.

The council's next move was to say that everyone was wrong and that "only" 500 jobs would be lost, mainly as a result of natural wastage with no redundancies.

Today's announcement from Cornwall Council that it is indeed going to axe 2,000 jobs, which is precisely between one in six and one in ten of the workforce (depending on whether you look at only full-time equivalents or include part-timers too), mainly through compulsory redundancies, is distressing enough. But the faces of the trade union officials as they sat through yesterday's media briefing told its own story - they were very angry.

Is it too cynical to suggest that a fact is not a fact - until after the polling stations have closed?

Monday, 26 July 2010

Why I sit at the back

A few councillors have asked me why, when covering full council meetings, I sit in the public gallery rather than in the press box. The answer is simple - the public gallery is often where the story is. If that's where the campaigners and protestors are, I probably need to listen to them. I suspect that as the spending axe is sharpened, and the targets become clearer and more specific, the public gallery increasingly will become centre stage.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Colin's not coming

I don't envy Cornwall Council cabinet member Carolyn Rule who on Tuesday has to explain this entry in her report to members:
"Colin Molton, who is currently Director at the Homes and Communities Agency with responsibility for investment in the South West, has been appointed as the Chief Executive of the Cornwall Development Company. He will take up his post on 1 October 2010. Colin is recognised as one of the country's best in the field of economic development and regeneration and, as such, comes with a wealth of experience and expertise. Colin is coming to Cornwall at a vitally important time."

Three days ago Mr Molton issued this statement:
"On reflection I believe that the HCA still offers me the right balance of professional and personal opportunities. I was immensely pleased to be offered the job at CDC and thank the management team for its support following my decision not to accept. I wish the CDC well in recruiting its new chief executive. Clearly, I wish to continue to try and help Cornwall achieve its ambitions through the enabling and investment routes which they will be able to draw on from the HCA. I look forward to continuing to work with partners in Cornwall in the future."

Back to the drawing board.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Who counts the headcounters?

Some time ago I began asking Cornwall Council for the quarterly headcount statistics that tell us roughly how many of the 21,000 workers remain. The latest batch of stats were due at the end of June, and I'd been promised them by Friday at the latest. Still no sign. What do you think?

Kevin: A man with a plan

Cornish Constitutional Convention
Andrew George, Kevin Lavery, Bert Biscoe, Mike German and Dick Cole at Saturday's Convention meeting.

When the £200,000-a-year chief executive of a powerful unitary council tells you Cornwall should be able to set its own trunk road speed limits for motorists, you know that either (a) the world has gone mad or (b) it's time to start taking the Cornwall Constitutional Convention more seriously.

Actually both of the above could be true but there were times during Kevin Lavery's address to the 10th annual meeting of the Convention when I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.

Inside County Hall it is tantamount to heresy to suggest that Kevin might not be a genius. There is a genuine and widely-held belief that he is the best, and certainly the cleverest local council clerk that Cornwall has ever seen (he is definitely the best paid.)

After Saturday's Convention meeting I walked away thinking Kevin must be some sort of magician. How else to explain his declaration that the deep cuts in public spending present an "opportunity" - indeed, Kevin wonders if Cornwall Council might not cut even more deeply than the 25% demanded by George Osborne, pocket the difference and use the proceeds to invest in its own major infrastructure projects.

There is no doubt that the creation of a powerful unitary council for Cornwall, to replace the old district councils, was a major game-changer. Here are a few of Kevin's comments from today's Convention meeting:
"We need to be optimistic. We have a 12-18-month window of opportunity. We have to seek opportunities and go for them. We have to take control and show leadership. We must stop looking to London and Brussels to solve our problems - only you, only people in Cornwall, can solve our problems. The unitary council can be Cornwall's salvation."
Kevin then gave as an example how development opportunities in the Camborne-Redruth area were, to some extent, limited by road capacity on the A30. Traffic flows, he said, are a function of "national" standards such as speed limits.
"Why not have our own standards?" he asked. "Why not set our own speed limits? These things are possible. They are possible in other countries and they could be possible in Cornwall."
So you change the speed limits, increase road capacity and exploit the planning gain. Simples. As long as the traffic cops don't have too many problems with enforcement...

Kevin said he would like the council to become a strategic body that looks to become a region in its own right. "We are not going to have another opportunity for maybe 20 years," he said.

No wonder Convention chairman, Cornwall councillor Bert Biscoe, was happy to declare "he's the best. Worth every penny!"

Earlier there had been a fleeting, virtual appearance from council leader Alec Robertson. A DVD projector displayed Alec as a "talking head" on the chamber wall. He was brief and to the point: "If we get the chance for greater devolution, we should grab it."

The context for this is the forthcoming "Localism Bill" which is expected to outline government plans for devolution.

The Truro and Falmouth Conservative MP Sarah Newton had to pull out of attending due to illness, but her coalition partner, St Ives Liberal Democrat, Andrew George, did adorn the platform.

I had wondered if the two MPs, who at Westminster are voting in favour of the deep public spending cuts in Cornwall, had been happy to take part in the Convention as a convenient way of wrapping themselves in Cornish tartan to deflect some of the flak. Too cynical?

Andrew gave a straightforward account of the government's position: "Regionalism is dead," he declared, listing the mangled corpses of the Regional Spatial Strategy, the Regional Development Agency, the Strategic Health Authority, Primary Care Trusts, Government Office of the South West etc etc.

Andrew said it was "less clear" what was going to replace these organisations, but thought that ministers seemed receptive to the idea of a Cornwall-alone Local Enterprise Partnership.

Apart from the LEP, I wonder if the government has any plans to replace anything. In the "good old days" things in Cornwall were run on a nod-and-a-wink by a rural squirearchy and the bonfire of controls and standards we are currently witnessing seems as good a way as any to revive it.

Mebyon Kernow's Dick Cole, a co-founder of the Convention 10 years ago, had been miffed at being left off the original speakers' list but Sarah's illness left a space on the top table, so Dick's contribution was duly heard.

The speaker sessions (yes, it ended up being five middle-aged, middle class blokes) ended with former Welsh Assembly deputy leader Mike German extolling the advantages of devolved government.

I think BBC Radio Cornwall's breakfast programme on Monday plans to broadcast coverage of the Convention and the full three hours will be on Cornwall Council's website from Tuesday or Wednesday.

A few words from the chairman

Untitled from Graham Smith on Vimeo.

One of the great things about having my own blog is that when I occasionally get carried away and come up with too much stuff for BBC Radio Cornwall, the "overmatter" can sometimes go here. Such is the case with my recent interview with Cornwall councillor and Cornish Constitutional Convention chairman Bert Biscoe, which runs to a totally unrealistic 18 minutes. Edited hghlights were broadcast earlier - but for those who want the whole thing, here it is.

Did I agree to this?

sainsburysI've just had this postcard from the supermarket chain Sainsbury's, lobbying me to support the company's planning application for a new store at Wadebridge. Similar cards have been sent to thousands of addresses in the Wadebridge area and surrounding villages.

It looks as if Sainsbury's has got these names and addresses from the electoral roll and I'm sure there's nothing illegal about it. The sale of this data probably makes a small amount of money for the council. Nevertheless, I didn't go on the electoral roll in order to become a marketing target and if there was a "please don't use me this way" box I must have failed to tick it.

Ironically, in my household, the greatest enthusiast for supermarkets is my younger daughter. She didn't get a card from Sainsbury's - she's not quite old enough to vote.

In praise of....Lazza

laurence reedJust spent my first week producing Laurence Reed's lunchtime talk show, which as everyone on Planet Earth knows runs 12 noon - 3pm every weekday on BBC Radio Cornwall.

The media world is full of luvvies who spend their lives blowing air kisses at each other and I am a very old-fashioned hack who has no intention of joining them. Nevertheless, indulge me for a moment while I say something nice about Laurence.

I've known Laurence for about 20 years but it's only since I washed ashore the gently sloping beaches of BBC Radio Cornwall in January that I have come to appreciate what a seriously heavyweight professional he is.

For a start, he has turned his nickname "Lazza" into an instantly recognisable brand. But more than that, he combines the manual dexterity of the disc jockey (his former profession, with the technical skills essential to keeping a studio on the air) with the instincts of an entertaining dinner party host whose primary aim is to keep his guests amused.

Earlier this year I got to produce a programme about Cornwall Council's spending cuts, recorded "as live" from County Hall. Laurence was an extremely competent presenter - he learned his brief (local government finance isn't always easy) and pursued his quarry with a determination that Paxman would have been proud of.

In April we embarked on an ambitious plan to repeat the trick with six more "as live" outside broadcasts from each of Cornwall's parliamentary constituencies, as part of our general election coverage. The aspiring politicians quickly learned that if they under-estimate Lazza, they do so at their peril.

On Thursday we tackled the complex business of councillors' expenses. It's a live programme and we often have no idea what's going to happen next. With less than 60 seconds' notice, Laurence had to interview Cornwall council leader Alec Robertson. This was followed immediately by an interview with council Opposition leader councillor Doris Ansari.

The interview with Doris is still on the BBC iPlayer and I do recommend you listen to it, particularly if you are not sure about Liberal Democrat policy and what it means to be a member of the LibDem group on Cornwall Council.

Then yesterday the breaking news of the day was the government plan to abolish the need for planning permission in rural areas and allow "affordable housing" projects, subject to a local referendum. From a standing start at 8am, we got the government minister, the Cornwall Council cabinet member responsible for planning, the Council for the Protection of Rural England (Cornwall), the Country Landowners' Association, a Cornish Member of Parliament and dozens of listeners on air to talk about it.

By any standards, this was high quality local current affairs and I'm grateful to have had the chance to work with the Great Man.


(Laurence, just mail the cheque to the usual address.)

Pain today, worse tomorrow (I think)

With government announcing public spending cuts faster than we can report them, I'm grateful to Cornwall council cabinet member Jim Currie for clearing up any confusion we media types might be suffering over precisely where the axe will fall. Jim's report to next week's council meeting suggests that in the short term, nothing much will happen:
"We are agreed that the time line is short to achieve large expenditure reductions by the end of the financial year."

But, er, before long Jim's report tells us:
"The bottom line is that we have a need for sustainable reductions in expenditure of £75,000 a day and if we do nothing today it will be £150,000 tomorrow. No amount of attractive devolution or projects must be allowed to distract us from the number one priority of balancing the Budget in 2010-11 since 2011-12 is even more challenging. Strict control of finance must be maintained if we are to keep control of our responsibilities."

The most recently published "headline" figure for the in-year cuts Cornwall council has to make is £14 million. Except that now, it seems:
"There have been serious disruptions recently particularly the loss of grant funding currently £17m and rising. This money has to be replaced sustainably if we are to balance the Budget by the end of the financial year."

It's obviously in the public interest that we should all know as soon as possible how the council sees its priorities, which is why journalists and councillors have spent all week trying (unsuccessfully) to get a straight answer. Either the council knows what it's going to do (and should tell us) or it doesn't know (which is actually rather more worrying.)

Given the council's determined enthusiasm for transparency, I'm sure it will all become clear on Tuesday.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Grace under pressure

Cornwall councillor Bert Biscoe has written to his colleague Dick Cole about Bert's newspaper article previewing the 10th anniversary of the Cornish Constitutional Convention:
"I apologise to Mebyon Kernow, which I have always known to be inclusive and outward-looking in both its principles and its activities. It was not my intention to imply anything negative about the Party, or indeed, any of the mainstream Parties and politicians at work in Cornwall. You are right that the quote might be taken to infer an allegation of exclusivity. It was clumsy of me."
I don't propose to detail every nuance of the original article, which has clearly been subjected to intense (too much?) contextual analysis already - but as an example of how to apologise properly, and move on, this looks pretty good. Well done Bert.

For those who haven't the faintest idea what I'm talking about, Dick Cole's blog sets the background.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Cameron backs Cornish LEP to replace Regional Development Agency

Later than I would have liked, here is my blog about David Cameron's visit to Cornwall on 9th July. The video is from the 10 Downing Street YouTube channel and I've done my best to indicate timecodes for the bits I'm talking about.

The Prime Minister's enthusiasm for Cornwall to go-it-alone with a Local Enterprise Partnership can be seen in his answer to a question at 04:35. "There should be one right here in Cornwall," he says. "I hope a Cornish scheme will come forward. We can set you free."

Hmmm. LEPs are supposed to hold the ring between local businesses, local councils, central government and any international organisations (such as the European Union) which might have money to spare. They are supposed to co-ordinate planning strategy and make sure that, for example, if Cornwall ever builds its own rail network, the rails are all the same width apart. I'm not sure that there when it comes to strategic co-ordination, "small is beautiful" is always true. I shall blog more about this in future.

Cameron's only tough question came from a gent (29:53) who wanted to know why the government was scrapping the schools' rebuilding programme rather than cracking down on tax dodgers and bankers. His answer was that there was no money for schools, and that cracking down on tax dodgers and bankers was rather difficult. At least, that's what it sounded like to me. Play the clip and judge for yourself.

Cornwall councillor Steve Double asked a good question (34:10) about the funding formula for local government, which - during the election campaign - Cameron acknowledged was unfair to Cornwall. But Cameron's 9th July answer failed to match his earlier promise of a review. Instead, he spoke about abolishing specific grants to local councils and then letting them decide for themselves what to spend the money on.

Again, the "we can set you free" answer - but whose freedom? I can remember the days, not that long ago, when the old Independent-controlled Cornwall County Council routinely over-spent on highways and under-spent on education. Cornwall's agricultural sector was even more strongly represented on the council in those days than it is today. I wonder what that council would have made of such freedom?

Cameron even implied that one reason Cornwall had lost out on Building Schools for the Future was that it did not move quickly enough to spend the cash. Cornwall "did not have enough projects in the pipeline that were ready for completion." Really? If this is true, who's to blame?

Best question by far (46:35) came from the Looe Monkey Sanctuary who wanted to know the Prime Minister's views about primates as pets. "I've no idea," he said.

If you watch the whole movie you might think that most of the questions were rather gentle and not really very political. You might think that. I couldn't possibly comment.

One of the reasons it's taken a while to update this blog is that Downing Street "gave" the Prime Minister's visit to another radio station (one with adverts,) leaving the BBC to play catch-up all day. If I had been allowed in to the question-and-answer session I would have blogged about it sooner. But instead I went to Spain and avoided a week of steady Cornish drizzle.

It's not how much, it's how many

Expect the usual suspects to crop up in media coverage of Cornwall councillors' allowances, down for debate again at the full council meeting on Tuesday (the Local Government Association is recommending a 2.3% rise.)

I forecast more heat than light, much tedious grand-standing (it's started already,) a platform for the Taxpayers' Alliance and a pointed refusal by councillors to engage in the real issue: who runs the council?

It's a simple choice. As long as we have 123 councillors, most of them will have very little influence. Power will remain with the ten Cabinet members. A smaller council would mean that each individual councillor carried much more weight across larger council divisions. It's the case for a full-time, professional class of local politician.

Parish pump representation would properly become the preserve of parish and town councillors. But at County Hall, Cornwall councillors would have the power to exercise far more control over the executive. A price worth paying?

Monday, 19 July 2010

Two stories with the words "councillor" and "sex"

Twelve days away and I seem to have missed quite a bit - moral: don't leave the office.

First story was Cornwall Council's press release announcing, more than two weeks after the event, that 10 out of 12 members of the Miscellaneous Licensing Committee had visited T2 (Temptations 2) in Plymouth's Union Street. This sex education tour of a lap dancing club took place on 29th June, and was clearly such a success that the councillors had to visit twice (OK, actually it was in two groups of five.)

I'm sure we're all relieved that, according to the press release, the councillors "kept expenses to a minimum and carried out the fact finding mission in a strictly professional manner."

The second story has absolutely no connection to the first. It concerns Cornwall councillor Bill Jenkin, who on Friday was charged with two offences of sexual assault and one of common assault. According to the police statement:
"The two counts of sexual assault relate to incidents against two women aged 43 years and 65 years, and the count of common assault against a woman aged 39 years."

Councillor Jenkin, aged 79, resigned as a member of the Devon and Cornwall police authority. Cornwall Council's website has been updated since I went on holiday and no longer lists him as a Conservative - his party affiliation is now "unspecified" - and it appears he is no longer a member of the council's Standards Committee, or indeed any other committee. He is due to appear before West Cornwall magistrates on 5th August.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Cornwall Council offices now stirred, not shaken

Next week's meeting of Cornwall Council's Corporate Resources Scrutiny committee should be interesting. Here is the list of "core" properties which officials now recommend should be retained:
Penzance (St Clare and Roscadgill Parc)
Camborne, Pool and Redruth (Dolcoath Avenue, Basset Centre, 24 Basset Road and Western Group Centre at Scorrier)
Truro (New and Old County Hall campuses but reduction in portacabins and temporary buildings. "The Carrick House complex is a special case and will require further reports in due course as options crystallise.")
St Austell (Penwinnick Road campus and Sedgemoor)
Wadebridge (Higher Trenant)
Bodmin (consolidate to a new site)
Liskeard (Luxstow House, Graylands and Westborne)
Other towns (to retain existing local offices)

My attention is drawn particularly to this part of the official report:

"The original proposal to create a new office in Bodmin as a single main campus to serve the East received considerable attention from local Members. To that end the vision has been reviewed such that the proposal is:
a) to refurbish Higher Trenant in Wadebridge;
b) prepare the feasibility report for a new office in Bodmin that could allow the current staff in Bodmin to be located on a single site; and
c) retain Luxstowe House in Liskeard."

This suggests Higher Trenant is now safe, even if Sainsbury's gets planning permission for a supermarket next to it. Bodmin, though, is not going to benefit quite as much as it might have expected from being the "hub" of all council activity north of Truro. And despite all the talk of cutting public services, the council is still advised to spend £8million on a refurbishment of New County Hall. The total cost of all major refurbishments over the next five years is estimated at £11.7 million - not counting any new buildings in Bodmin.

Do I hear the sound of gears being thrown rapidly into reverse? I wonder what former Corporate Director Peter Lewis thinks?

Thursday, 8 July 2010

David Miliband on his way to Cornwall

Labour leadership hopeful David Miliband is due to visit Cornwall on 16th July.

A vital difference

My thanks to a local Lib Dem for pointing out that five of the top six "Big Spender" candidates listed in my general election campaign funds trawl are women. Four of the top five "Cheaper" candidates are men.

Tortoise latest

For some reason Defra's Caroline Spelman has declined my invitation to talk about tortoises and whether they are "normally domesticated" or "not normally domesticated" for the purposes of the Zoo Licencing Act 1981.

It really is a mystery as to how or why tortoises were left off a long list of animals detailed in the Act. When it comes to reindeer and ostriches, and ferrets and gerbils, we know precisely what to do with them. But not tortoises.

Defra tells me the department has no plans to legislate to clear this up so the next Queen's speech is unlikely to include much on tortoises. "It could be a matter for the courts," he says. "But really it's up to the local authority. It's a judgement call."

I shall resist the temptation to joke about how tortoise policy develops only very slowly, or how when faced with difficult questions politicians retreat into their shells.

But who is to blame? Well the Zoo Licencing Act was done in 1981 so I suppose we could pin it all on Margaret Thatcher. Seems a bit harsh. Nevertheless "who has political control of tortoises in Cornwall in 2010?" is clearly an urgent and pressing question.

Step forward, therefore, Bodmin councillor Lance Kennedy - who is Cornwall's cabinet member for Community Safety and Neighbourhoods. According to the government, it's his department at County Hall which has the authority to define a tortoise. I'll bet he's thrilled.

Slow news day

As has been well documented elsewhere, including BBC Radio Cornwall, Cornwall Council is trying to encourage the Tortoise Garden at Sticker, near St Austell, to apply for a zoo licence. Joy Bloor, owner of the Tortoise Garden, is resisting. It begs the question: what is a tortoise?

I love stories like this - you really can't make them up. Just imagine Defra Secretary of State Caroline Spelman grappling with the complexities of Annex E of her own department's Circular 02/2003 - Zoo Licencing Act 1981: is a tortoise as domesticated as a Vietnamese pot bellied pig? Or a hamster, or guinea-pig? Probably more user-friendly than a camel or water buffalo. I honestly don't know - and neither do the politicians.

One politician who clearly hasn't got a clue is the multi-millionaire non-dom expelled-from-Eton Conservative MP for Richmond Park, Zac Goldsmith. Zac has written a very bossy letter, on official House of Commons notepaper, to Lord Teverson - demanding action.

Most readers of this blog will know that Lord Teverson is also Robin Teverson, Liberal Democrat Cornwall Councillor for St Mewan. Zac's letter, addressed to Robin at the House of Lords, seeks assurances about the welfare of two tortoises - Zac helpfully identifies them by their (first?) names, Carnelian and Ruby.

And with all the confidence of someone born to it, Zac then demands of Robin: "some reassurance from you that all will be done" to protect the Tortoise Garden. Robin is understandably irritated - the Cornwall Council member with responsibility for all this is Conservative cabinet member Lance Kennedy.

Never mind the VAT increase. Forget about all those schools which won't now be rebuilt or repaired, or any of the other public spending cuts which, deep down, most Liberal Democrats probably don't approve of. If there's anything likely to undo the coalition, it'll be tortoises.

So who is the minister for second home voters?

Congratulations to North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson, whose intervention during Prime Minister's Questions has secured a meeting with a government minister to discuss the much-blogged issue of votes cast from second home addresses. We're still not sure who this minister will be - but my money's on Nick Clegg.

The long and the short of it

The "long campaign" is the period from 1st January 2010 until the date Parliament was dissolved on 12th April. The "short campaign" started on 13th April and then ran until polling day. Unless otherwise indicated, the expenditure reported on this blog is for both the long and short campaigns combined. You can get more details from the Electoral Commission.

You won't find cheaper, honest

Michael Sparling (Labour) - zero

Robert Hawkins (Socialist Labour) - £62

Ian Wright (Green) - £287

Janet Hulme (Labour) - £640

Roger Creagh-Osborne (Green) - £702.23

Big spenders

Caroline Righton (Conservative) £40,968.07

Terrye Teverson (Lib Dem) £39,013.04

Sian Flynn (Conservative) £37,743.63

Stephen Gilbert (Lib Dem) £33,852.39

Karen Gillard (Lib Dem) £33,625.26

Sheryll Murray (Conservative) £31,146.73

St Ives cost per vote

Jonathan Rogers (Cornish Democrats) spent £7,175.65 for 396 votes - £18.12 each
Simon Reed (Mebyon Kernow) spent £1,304.83 for 387 votes - £3.37 each
Tim Andrewes (Green) spent £2,057.17 for 1,308 votes - £1.57 each
Derek Thomas (Conservative) spent £24,601.34 for 17,900 votes - £1.34 each
Andrew George (Lib Dem) spent £21,181.42 for 19,619 votes - £1.08 each
Mick Faulkner (UKIP) spent £2,275.91 for 2,560 votes - 89 pence each
Philippa Latimer (Labour) spent £2,182 for 3,751 votes - 58 pence each

Campaign costs only - does not include £500 lost deposits

Truro & Falmouth cost per vote

Loic Rich (Mebyon Kernow) spent £5,394.23 for 1,039 votes - £5.19 each
Terrye Teverson (Lib Dem) spent £39, 013.04 for 19,914 votes - £1.96 each
Charlotte MacKenzie (Labour) spent £7,349.68 for 4,697 votes - £1.56 each
Sarah Newton (Conservative) spent £29,518.50 for 20,349 votes - £1.45 each
Harry Blakely (UKIP) spent £1,152.87 for 1,911 votes - 60 pence each
Ian Wright (Green) spent £287 for 858 votes - 33 pence each

Campaign costs only - does not include £500 lost deposits

The language of persuasion

As an example of how three candidates in the same constituency might record identical expenditure in different ways, I can report Labour's Jude Robinson spent £117 on an "interpreter" and Lib Dem Julia Goldsworthy claims to have spent only £78 on a sign language demonstrator to help make their points at a public meeting. If Conservative George Eustice recorded anything for a sign language demonstrator we couldn't find it detailed in his return. In fact, all three candidates had agreed to split the cost (£117 for each candidate) on two sign language demonstrators at the same public meeting.

Camborne & Redruth cost per vote

Loveday Jenkin (Mebyon Kernow) spent £3,083.17 for 775 votes - £3.98 each
Jude Robinson (Labour) spent £15,624.78 for 6,945 votes - £2.25 each
Julia Goldsworthy (Lib Dem) spent £29,154.65 for 15,903 votes - £1.83 each
Euan McPhee (Green) spent £923.36 for 581 votes - £1.59 each
George Eustice (Conservative) spent £25,079.88 for 15,969 votes - £1.57 each
Derek Elliot (UKIP) spent £1,835.03 for 2,152 votes - 85 pence each
Robert Hawkins (Socialist Labour) spent £62 for 168 votes - 37 pence each

Campaign costs only - does not include costs of £500 lost deposits

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Total election spend in Cornwall by party

Conservatives £189,058.15

Liberal Democrats £176,835.69

Labour £27,005.21

Mebyon Kernow £17,114.10

UKIP £12,854.64

Cornish Democrats £7,175.65

Greens £3,969.76

British National Party £400

Socialist Labour £62

TOTAL SPEND £434,604.62

Note: More than half of the Labour spend (£15,624.78) was spent in one constituency, Camborne & Redruth. The Cornish Democrats contested only one seat, St Ives, and the Socialist Labour Party also contested only one constituency, Camborne & Redruth. The British National Party contested only one seat, St Austell & Newquay. The Green Party contested four of the six constituencies.

While on the subject of campaigning in cyberspace...

Nick Clegg poster
Apologies if this offends any political sensitivities, but in my humble opinion the people at display a wit and style which might be a pointer to future: if cyber-campaigning is ever to be effective, it will have to be high quality and sparkle. I recall some of the short-lived general election campaign websites and blogs really were dull. In the interests of balance, please feel free to comment with alternative sites.

Cyber-campaigns unaccounted for

Only a handful of candidates declare anything at all for their websites, blogs, tweets and Facebook campaigns - Labour's Lee Jameson reported £9.56 for his website in St Austell & Newquay, Julia Goldsworthy spent a small amount on various bits of new media and that's about it. This absence of evidence leads me to speculate that candidates with less money (Mebyon Kernow, Labour, Greens etc) probably relied more on cyberspace than those who could afford lots of posters and glossy leaflets - and that e-campaigning still has a long way to go to level the playing field of a paid-for democracy.
Stop Press: UKIP's Mick Faulkner declares he spent £18.98 on a megaphone. Clearly, e-campaigning still has a very long way to go in St Ives.
Stop Stop Press: Er, actually I've just noticed that Andrew George spent £172.87 on Google advertising. I just googled "Andrew George" and got 7,610,000 hits in 0.32 seconds. Impressive...but I won't read them all.

Where did the money come from?

Most candidates have a stab at listing donor details but these details are pretty sparse - most of the funds appear to have come direct from the political parties, at either a national or regional level. When you look for the detail you see a handful of individual donors (eg retiring South East Cornwall MP Colin Breed gave Karen Gillard £250,) but their contributions are dwarfed by centrally-administered funds.

Some campaigning, of course, was nationally directed and there was no requirement to declare it on individual candidates' returns: those big David Cameron posters, for example, don't appear on any of the local expenses documentation because they were part of the national campaign.

Dan Rogerson spent more than Sian Flynn

On the "short" campaign (the three weeks before polling day,) North Cornwall's Lib Dem MP Dan Rogerson spent £11,082.52. Conservative challenger Sian Flynn a mere £10,741.42.

But on the "long" campaign, Sian declares £27,002.21 and Dan only £8,926.11, Being an MP, of course, means you don't have to spend so much to get your name in the local papers.

Council statement on compromise agreements

BBC Radio Cornwall's coverage of the Peter Lewis pay-off has prompted this intriguing statement from Cornwall Council:
"From time to time the Council will seek to resolve employment issues through a Compromise Agreement. This is not a regular or frequent approach. It can, however, be a helpful route for settling matters in the mutual interests of the Council and individual employees. This is particularly true where the issue is complex because a Compromise Agreement ensures that the risks and costs associated with addressing the issue through the normal processes and procedures are reduced. In all cases an assessment of risks and costs will underpin any Compromise Agreement, which will be subject in the most significant cases to informal discussion with the District Auditor and to member approval."

So what, I wonder, constitutes a "most significant case" worthy of "member approval?" Hard to think of one more high-profile than Peter Lewis, whose length of service with the council was not even long enough to qualify him for a hearing at an Industrial Tribunal.
Next full council meeting is on 27th July. Which of our 123 elected representatives is up for asking a question?

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Experts predict a Devonwall constituency

I'm grateful to the Polling Report blog for this observation about what Nick Clegg's Parliamentary Reform Bill will mean for constituency boundaries:
"In the South-West Cornwall will probably be upset about being paired with another county, but it is unavoidable. With an entitlement of almost exactly 5.5 seats it will need to be paired with Devon, between them having 17 seats, one down on currently. The former county of Avon will lose 1 seat, Gloucestershire will be largely unchanged. This leaves Dorset and Wiltshire where the average seat sizes will be too small, and Somerset where they will be too large. To me, the most sensible solution is pairing Wiltshire and Dorset, with Somerset paired with one or both of the parts of Avon originally drawn from Somerset. The result will be that Avon/Somerset lose one seat between them, and Dorset/Wiltshire lose one seat between them."

Just fancy that!

Cornwall has some very large constituencies and Parliamentary candidates can easily travel more than 100 miles a day during the course of a general election campaign. So it's surprising that the Electoral Commission isn't more strict about how candidates and agents complete the "Transport" section of their election expense returns.

Many candidates ignore this section completely. Others include figures which just scream out for further inquiry. For example, North Cornwall's Sian Flynn (Conservative) declared 138 miles for "fuel," which for a constituency which stretches from Bodmin to Bude suggests an awful lot of cycling.

By amazing coincidence, South East Cornwall's Sheryll Murray (Conservative) also declared 138 miles for "fuel." "Fuel" of course is much cheaper than 40 pence per mile, and both candidates duly declared the cost at £55.20. This is clearly not the whole story so I sought further particulars.

The Conservative agent for both candidates, Bob Davidson, tells me that these were both journeys which he undertook from campaign HQ in St Austell. And because the distances were about the same he recorded identical figures when compiling the election expenses returns.

"The candidates' travel expenses will have been recorded as personal costs," he says, "and probably won't show up as individual detailed journeys." He's absolutely right - they don't show up at all.

In fact, none of the candidates from any of the parties tell us very much about their campaign travel costs. Perhaps for inner city constituencies it's not much of any issue. But in the large, rural, geographically-challenging constituencies we have in most of Cornwall, the ability to cover huge distances confers quite an advantage.

Another point for Nick Clegg to consider in his Parliamentary Reform Bill?

Stephen Gilbert outspent Caroline Righton

Although Caroline Righton (Conservative) was overall the top spender in the St Austell & Newquay constituency, over the "short" campaign (the period after the election was called officially) she was outspent by the winning Liberal Democrat, Stephen Gilbert.

In the three weeks before polling day, Stephen spent £12,375.42 - just £15.90 within the statutory limit. Caroline spent £12,344.97 over the same period.

South East Cornwall cost per vote

Roger Holmes (Mebyon Kernow) spent £1,353.67 for 641 votes - £2.11 each
Karen Gillard (Lib Dem) spent £33,625.26 for 19,170 - £1.75 each
Stephanie McWilliam (UKIP) spent £4,518.05 for 3,083 votes - £1.47 each
Sheryll Murray (Conservative) spent £31,146.73 for 22,390 votes - £1.39 each
Roger Creagh-Osborne (Green) spent £702.23 for 826 votes - 85 pence each
Michael Sparling (Labour) spent nothing at all for 3,507 votes (I'm still waiting to hear from him about how he managed to do this)

Campaign costs only. The two Rogers lost their £500 deposits.

No laughing matter

Several candidates between them spent hundreds of pounds on helium gas cylinders. Presumably for balloons. Because the campaign didn't have enough hot air already...

North Cornwall cost per vote

Joanie Willet (Mebyon Kernow) spent £1,270 for 530 votes - £2.40 each
Sian Flynn (Conservative) spent £37,743.63 for 19,531 votes - £1.93 each
Miriel O'Conner (UKIP) spent £2,453.93 for 2,300 votes - £1.07 each
Dan Rogerson (Lib Dem) spent £20,008.93 for 22,512 votes - 89 pence each
Janet Hulme (Labour) spent £640 for 1,971 votes - 33 pence each

Figures are for campaign costs. Only Dan Rogerson and Sian Flynn saved their £500 election deposits.

Best job title ever?

During the general election campaign, Hayward Burt was the chap Conservative candidates would be particularly nice to when they needed extra funds for their local campaigns. His job title was "Battleground Director, Liberal Democrat Cluster." I wonder if the uniform was similarly impressive...

Lib Dems outspent Tories in South East Cornwall

South East Cornwall's Liberal Democrat candidate, Karen Gillard, outspent her Tory conqueror Sheryll Murray by £33,625.26 to £31,146.73. I wonder if the activists who worked hard to raises these sums would have been quite so active if they had known that a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition was just around the corner. Even with Labour failing to make any contribution at all to the "election economy" here, the total campaign spend in South East Cornwall was £71,345.94.

The best value candidate so far...

is Michael Sparling, Labour, South East Cornwall. I've called him to ask how he got through the entire "long" and "short" general election campaigns (ie before and after the official starting gun was fired) without spending any money at all. Waiting for a call back.

Labour's Janet Hulme, North Cornwall, spent only £640, which make her 1,971 votes look pretty good value at 33 pence each - except that she lost her £500 deposit, which raises the price to 58 pence each. Still the cheapest cost-per-vote in North Cornwall.

It's going to take a while to blog every detail so please check back at least once a day.

St Austell & Newquay cost per vote

Dick Cole (Mebyon Kernow) spent £4,708.20 for 2,007 votes - £2.35 each
Caroline Righton (Conservative) spent £40,968.07 for 18,877 votes - £2.17 each
Steve Gilbert (Liberal Democrat) spent £33,852.39 for 20,189 votes - £1.68 each
Clive Medway (UKIP) spent £947.50 for 1,757 votes - 54 pence each
James Fitton (BNP) spent £400 for 1,022 votes - 39 pence each
Lee Jameson (Labour) spent £1,208.75 for 3,386 votes - 36 pence each

These figures represent only campaign expenditure and do not include the £500 election deposits, payable by all candidates but lost in the cases of Dick Cole, Clive Medway and James Fitton.

Caroline's magic bus

Caroline Righton's bus
Fasten your seat belts for a series of reports on how general election campaign funds were spent in Cornwall. For example, according to Caroline Righton's declaration of expenses, her campaign bus cost just £3.71 per day. At that price we should all have one.

Caroline's agent, Bob Davidson, tells me that this £3.71 was just the fixed cost of running the vehicle at 40 pence/mile from 2008 and that once the official "long campaign" period kicked in, the declared costs increased to more like £20 per day. Still remarkably cheap, given the distances travelled. And perhaps just as well - the £40,968.07 she spent in her unsuccessful campaign to become the Conservative MP for St Austell & Newquay was just £1,663.57 within the statutory limit.

Caroline's 18,877 votes cost £2.17 each. Compare with Labour's Michael Sparling in the neighbouring South East Cornwall constituency: Michael claims to have spent nothing at all. Not a penny. His return declares a big fat zero. I know Labour wasn't trying very hard in some parts of Cornwall but that really takes "not trying" to a whole new level. His 3,507 votes therefore look remarkably good value.

A notebook full of data, and more constituencies to examine. But this looks like it was time well spent. More soon.

Who spent what to get your vote

On my way to Liskeard to start looking at the declared returns of general election expenses. These are not held centrally, nor published on-line, so inquiries might take a few days. I hope the story's worth it!

Rural bus routes next up for the chop?

The Bus Service Operator Grant, worth £500 million to local councils, is now apparently under review. If it's scrapped completely (a possibility) then one route in 14 will have to be withdrawn, as fares rise by 6.5 per cent. As usual, questions are on their way to County Hall about what this means for Cornwall...

Total Politics Blog Poll 2010-11

Click here to vote in the Total Politics Best Blogs Poll 2010
Email your Top Ten Favourite Blogs to

Monday, 5 July 2010

How to beat the 24-hour news machine

You have to hand it to the coalition government, they've certainly got newshounds like me chasing our tails, spinning in ever-decreasing circles.

Notwithstanding the "immediate" nature of the modern news media, does anybody have the faintest idea where we are right now with the cuts in public spending in Cornwall? OK, so we all knew that Building Schools for the Future was likely to be scrapped - six Cornish secondary schools losing a £69million investment - but the cuts are coming so fast that I have to admit, I can't keep up.

This is what I think I've reported so far: jobs and training schemes for under 24s, the Isles of Scilly ferry link, Camborne-Redruth road, nearly £14m in as-yet-unspecified Cornwall Council cuts (this year,) cuts in education services, and today the six new or refurbished Cornish schools - all axed or frozen.

I'm also aware of cuts to the police service but haven't yet had time to look at the detail. And the RDA. Did Danny Alexander really say he wanted to see suggestions for 40% cuts in every government department? My eyes grow cloudy, my memory dims. And we're only two months in.

At the same time we've had an emergency budget which put up taxes. In addition to this, and before the general election, Cornwall Council told us it was cutting £108 million over four years. That was only in February yet it now seems like a lifetime ago.

Usually Members of Parliament, and leading members of Cornwall Council, are falling over themselves to issue "hallelujah!" press releases extolling page after page of fabulous good news. Yet now they seem strangely silent and reluctant to return my calls.

Maybe the spin doctors who advise the political classes have finally figured out a way to win: make the news so unremittingly, repetitively bad; rattle it out with machine-gun rapidity; and eventually the media will lose interest - just another day in Darfur; a bit of an earthquake somewhere far away. The news editors and programme producers will just say "What? Another cuts story? I don't want that - get me something fresh! Get me the skateboarding duck!"

So please help this confused old hack keep on top of his job. I'm doing my best but could sure use your assistance. If you can manage a comprehensive list of all the public spending cuts in Cornwall since the general election, just post a comment on this blog. Thank you.

And the new MP for Devonwall is...

Fifty MPs face abolition. That's one in 12, so at first sight it looks as if Cornwall might keep the six it has now.

But it also heralds an average eight per cent increase in the size of every UK constituency (except two in Scotland - Orkney & Shetland and the Western Isles.) So how can the Boundary Commission increase the size of all six Cornish constituencies without taking in some voters from Devon?

The choice appears to be between surrendering the "natural and historic" boundaries to the east of North Cornwall and South East Cornwall, or surrendering one of Cornwall's MPs.

The timing of all this is just eye-watering (especially if you work for the Boundary Commission.) The Commission has to undertake a root-and-branch reform of the entire UK (except two small parts of Scotland) before the end of 2013. That then leaves just 17 months before the next general election in May 2015.

Political parties may well have to select prospective Parliamentary candidates without knowing the constituencies they will be contesting.

Value for money or cynical expediency?

Extract from an email from Cornwall Council's Head of Legal Services:

"Under the provisions of the Accounts and Audit (Amendment No.2) (England) Regulations 2009, the Council was obliged to disclose the amount paid to Peter Lewis by way of compensation.

"I was present at all the meetings regarding the new severance policy and I recall it being said that Compromise Agreements were a standard means by which the arrangements for staff departures from organisations were set out when such departures were individually negotiated and that confidentiality clauses were standard provisions in such Agreements.

"The Chief Executive kept the Leader and the relevant Cabinet Member advised of the negotiations which he properly undertook as part of his delegated powers. He took advice in relation to those negotiations from the Assistant Director of HR and myself and we were satisfied that it was appropriate for the Council to enter into the Compromise Agreement on the terms set out therein."

Richard Williams
Head of Legal and Democratic Services
Cornwall Council

Who knew and when

I have it on good authority that the £78,750 compensation for loss of office, plus £24,782 pension contributions for former Cornwall Council Corporate Director Peter Lewis was a deal worked out between Peter himself and his boss, chief executive Kevin Lavery mano a mano. Head of legal services Richard Williams kept it, er, legal. Out of 123 democratically elected councillors, only two - the leader, Alec Robertson, and relevant Cabinet member, Jim Currie - were "kept advised." As for the other 121 councillors, the first they knew about it was when they heard it on the news.

Second home voters escape scrutiny

It looks as if Friday's meeting of the Electoral Review Panel generated more heat than light when it came to the discussion about second home voters. Cornwall councillors Jeremy Rowe and Alex Folkes have already blogged about this.

As I understand it the Panel is making the following recommendations: that the idea of cross-referencing the council tax discount register with the electoral roll will be considered (but don't hold your breath - senior officials have already dismissed it as too time-consuming and too expensive;) the council will write to deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg seeking a clarification of the law; and that the council's annual canvass will include a note to all potential electors in Cornwall reminding them that they should not vote if they're not entitled to (yes, really.)

Not much of a revolution. If Nick Clegg now fails to deal with second home voting in his forthcoming Parliamentary Reform Bill, could it be the end of the issue for the Liberal Democrats? Clegg had an opportunity to say something about second homes today when he made his statement about individual voter registration - but if he has any thoughts on the subject, he kept them to himself.

The revolving doors of perception

Top brass at County Hall are all suited and booted for their trip to Bournemouth and the annual conference of the Local Government Association. The LGA slogan this year is "Changing times, changing minds" - which is spookily similar to "Changing minds for changing times," the slogan of a US life-coaching and motivation company:
"Headquartered in Washington, DC, our company is a nationally recognized, innovative management consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, team building and change work. Our innovative human development technology, P.R.A.I.S.E.!, is an acronym for our tested and non-religious method that successfully achieves desired shifts in organizations, groups, agencies, families and individuals and has undergone rigorous study by Georgia State and evaluation through programs via Catholic University."

Anybody know what this means? I've read it three times and still don't get it. But let's hope councillors Alec Robertson, Jim Currie, Neil Burden et al are suitably inspired when they get back to Cornwall at the end of the week.

Nick Clegg speaks: a Nation waits

Just had this from the lobby: "The statement by the Deputy Prime Minister this afternoon (1530) on Electoral Reform will also cover plans to equalise the size of constituencies, and bring the number down from the current 650."

Will Cornwall lose one of its MPs? Share a constituency, or two, with Devon? I hope we'll be able to shed some light on the implications later today, and on BBC Radio Cornwall tomorrow morning.