Sunday, 31 October 2010

An opportunty for the Lib Dems

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

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

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

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

Vince Cable approves Cornwall's Local Enterprise Partnership

Cornwall LEP on BBC Spotlight from Graham Smith on Vimeo.

BBC Spotlight Thursday 28th October 2010

Devonwall's dates with destiny

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

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

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

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

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

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

More than just sympathy for the old devil

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 30 October 2010

The usual suspects

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

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

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

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

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

Devil in the detail

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

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

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

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

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

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

The shrinking council

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

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

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Coalition creaks

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

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

Sorry, sorry, sorry...

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Was there a Cornish Brigade?

This is an appeal for information.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above reproach?

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

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

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

The Newquay Airport gamble

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

Monday, 25 October 2010

Time running out for anti-Devonwall MPs

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

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

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

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

Neil's burden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doris Ansari banned from press conference

A bizarre scene moments before this morning's press conference about Cornwall Council's budget cuts: Councillor Doris Ansari, OBE, Justice of the Peace and one of the longest-serving figures in Cornish local government of this or any generation was chucked out, on the orders of chief executive Kevin Lavery.

Kevin's explanation was that the press conference was a private meeting. He said that if he allowed Doris into the room, he might have to afford similar access to 121 other councillors (I have to say this does seem rather improbable.)

Technically, Kevin is quite correct - press conferences are not covered by the same Public Bodies (Admissions to Meetings) Act of 1960 which governs most local council business. But I don't think I'm the only reporter who felt rather uneasy about Doris's exclusion.

One of the fundamental tenets upon which rests our concept of a free press is that journalists enjoy only the same rights and privileges as every other citizen. Once you start deciding who can and who cannot report things, you are on a very slippery slope.

Without meaning to, Kevin had reminded us that we were only there because he had invited us. I felt relieved that BBC Radio Cornwall had already reported the story in some depth the previous week, by entirely independent means.

Now Doris is not the sort of person to be chucked out of anywhere without protest and she made her feelings quite clear before she left the press conference. There was no suggestion that she was planning to disrupt proceedings, start heckling or try to steal the limelight in any way. The practical effect of her exclusion was to give the impression of a council which was unsure, nervous - afraid, even - in rather the same way that the Labour Party heavies who in 2005 ejected from their conference 82-year-old Walter Wolfgang revealed all the opposites of what they were trying to achieve.

Doris was first elected to the former Cornwall County Council in 1980 and has been a familiar face at County Hall ever since. She was first elected to Truro City Council in 1971. In 1971, Kevin Lavery was still at primary school.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Clegg letter might be posted dreckly

Richard Williams, head of legal and democratic services at Cornwall Council, emails (on a Sunday afternoon, too!) to update me on the Nick Clegg letter which councillors asked for on 2nd July. This is the one designed to ask the Deputy Prime Minister to clarify aspects of the law relating to second home voters.

"The `Clegg letter' is being circulated for comment and I hope it will go in the next fortnight," writes Richard.

Now I happen to know that Richard is one of the most hard-working and conscientious officlals employed by Cornwall Council, respected by councillors across the political divide. So there must be some reason for the delay outside of his office - and I'd love to know what it is.

Anyone got any good conspiracy theories?

A challenge from the vicar

The Rev Jim Benton-Evans, the vicar of Camelford, has challenged Cornwall Council Cabinet member Joan Symons to a live debate on BBC Radio Cornwall to consider the future of the Camelford leisure centre. Joan has already said she won't talk about it ahead of Wednesday's cabinet meeting, but maybe we can arrange something for later.

How to go prematurely grey

You would think that by my age I would have learned what happens if you put your head too close to a freshly-painted wall while decorating - even more grey and white streaks than nature currently deems necessary. Serves me right for not hiring a professional.

How would you spend £739,832.40?

One thing which does not appear to have been considered in Cornwall Council's Star Chambers is how much money might be saved by reducing the number of councillors.

The basic allowance paid to each and every one of the 123 members is £12,128.40. Reducing the size of the council to, say, 62 councillors would therefore save at least £739.832.40. (I've suggested halving the size of the council because that's roughly how many members bothered to respond to an official survey on council car parking in Cornwall.)

One good thing to emerge from the Star Chambers is a menu-with-prices. We now know, for example, that £46,000 of council taxpayers' money is spent on attending the Royal Cornwall Show - and yet the Star Chambers thought this was worth saving.

Is being at the Show really more of a priority than keeping rural bus subsidies? There are choices to be made. And if you halve the size of the council you could save the leisure centres and libraries and still have change.

It will be fascinating to see what, if any, amendments are tabled before the budget is finally voted through next month.

Fair exchange is no robbery

In the pub with a couple of Cornwall's soon-to-be-ex-librarians whose language baffled me as they played a drinking game which involves developing new units of currency. The cost of keeping open Cornwall's leisure centres is roughly equivalent to one "Kevin." There are 50 Kevins to a "Wayne." What can they mean?

Friday, 22 October 2010

Secrets of the Star Chambers

The last thing I want to do is to spread fear or alarm where none is required. So let me be clear - these "alternative" cuts to Cornwall Council services are "for consideration" only and are "currently not recommended by Cabinet."

So there is no threat to Falmouth's 24-hour fire cover. And any suggestion that Cornwall might be reduced to only three libraries is total nonsense. And would councillors seriously consider getting rid of "at least one major leisure centre?" And even not turning up for the Royal Cornwall Show? Er, maybe...

This working document details the sort of discussions that went on behind closed doors during the Star Chambers - discussions which could well have had the citizens of Cornwall lobbying their elected politicians if they had been allowed to know what was going on. The trade unions would probably have been interested, too.

I wonder if any of these ideas will make it into the published Cabinet papers due for release on Monday? The cuts add up to a further £35.2million. Here are the highlights:

Removal of members' community chest
(£260,000) - "Members currrently have a budget of £2,150 to spend on their community. This option would remove this funding completely to focus on protecting key service budgets."

Waste - managed weekly collections (£1 million) - "Alternate service between recyclables and household waste. This will be controversial locally because of opposition and the Secretary of State's comments. However, this approach is the norm nationally now in top performing and it improves recycling levels as well."

Removal of members' highways budget
(£35,000) - "Capital programme currently £1m pa. This proposal would reduce this to £0.5m pa and a budget of around £4,000 per member."

County Road maintenance (£1 million) - "Would result in less road maintenance....may result in a reduced winter maintenance provision, further claims against delayed carriageway and footway repairs and concerns about highway safety."

Fire Service 1 (£100,000) - "Removal of 24-hour cover at Falmouth."

Fire Service 2 (£2 million) - "10% reduction in budget. This will reduce the number of firefighter posts by 32 across the two stations at Camborne and Falmouth through a move to flexible crewing arrangement. The Newquay 24-hour trial will be lost (£0.96m) On top of this there will be a loss of one principal officer which would lead to an unsustainable management structure and put at risk the amalgamation with public health and protection (£0.13m.) Then there will be the loss of 10 senior oficers which will mean the loss of 35% of operational cover (incident command - £0.825m.) All of these changes could potentially trigger national industrial action."

Fire Service 3 (£2 million) - "Further 10% reduction - loss of 4 watch managers from training department which will have a detrimental impact on our ability to train firefighters and maintaining crew competence (£0.2m.) Remove prevention service which will greatly affect the ability to target vulnerable groups and meet the requirements of the Fire Services Act 2004 (£0.48m) Closure of Lostwithiel and St Dennis fire stations which will leave areas to be covered from neighbouring stations (£0.3m.) Switch existing 5 day crewed stations to variable crewing model - will see loss of 20 frefighter posts across Newquay, Truro, Bodmn, St Austell and Penance. Review of fire cover for Hayle, Camborne and Redruth (£0.55m.) All potential triggers for national industrial action. It is the opinion of the Chief Fire Officer that the service will be unsustainable at this level of savings and consideration would need to be given to merging with Devon and Somerset FRS."

Non attendance at Royal Cornwall Show (£46,000) - "Cancel attendance and sub let facility."

Public Health & Protection (£750,000) - "Whilst fully privatising the service may be legally unachievable, outsourcing specific aspects is achievable and is an option currently used by the service, including lower risk food hygiene inspections; pest control; air quality monitoring; food and water sampling and analysis; dog warden service (part.) Only substantive way of achieving a 10% budget reduction is by reducing front line staff by 25 FTEs - equates to 20% reduction of front line staff which would lead to a failure to protect areas of public health and a failure to discharge statutory functions. With this level of front line staff reduction it is highly likely that numbers of Ombudsman complants and judicial reviews will increase."

Leisure (£500,000) - "Further reduction in subsidy to £2m. Reduction of two community leisure officer posts. Plus removal from at least one major leisure centre (Dragon, Polkyth, Lux Park or Ships & Castle) and/or 2 medium facilities (Helston, Newquay, Phoenix, St Ives, Saltash, Truro, Splash,Wadebridge or Waterworld.)"

Beach and water safety (£200,000) - "20% reduction in budget may impact on tourism and reputation."

Libraries and One Stop Shops
(£1.55m) - "Radical approach to library and OSS provision. This option is in addition to previous options. Leaving only three libraries/OSS centres in east, mid and west and closing all other venues. Increased potential for legal challenge. 100 posts redundant. Impact on People's Network and digitcal exclusion, loss of face to face role for Cornwall Council and possible claw back of funds."

Public conveniences
(£1 million) - "Cease service completely/transfer to local councils and close all toilets apart frm summer season..."

The list goes on and on - but my brain grows weary, my eyes dim, and because the council is so enthusiastic about openness and transparency, it will probably wish to make some sort of announcement itself.

Mike Chappell quits hunger strike

Celtic League (Kernow) secretary Mike Chappell has given up his hunger strike after 11 days. He tells me he's lost a stone in weight and his belt now buckles eight holes tighter. Mike began his hunger strike in protest at government plans to abolish Cornwall's political boundary with Devon.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Andrew George voted for Labour amendment

Trying to make sense of Hansard's record of who supported what last night - and it appears that St Ives MP Andrew George found himself in a different lobby to Cornwall's five other coalition MPs when it came to the frequency of Boundary Commission reviews.

The government line is that constituency boundaries should be re-drawn every five years. A Labour amendment sought to change a line in Clause 8 to make reviews every ten years. Andrew voted with Labour. Stephen Gilbert, Sheryll Murray, Sarah Newton, Dan Rogerson and George Eustice all obeyed their whips and voted for a five-year-merry-go-round.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Devonwall Bill amendments not debated

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituency Boundaries Bill rumbles on. MPs tonight ran out of time before assorted "hands off Cornwall" amendments could be debated. I'm not sure how or when Cornwall's MPs will now get a chance to change the Bill (might there be possibilities in the Lords?) before they have to decide whether to vote for it, or against it, at the third and final reading.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Cornwall's cuts budget

This is a document which prompts more questions than answers. The council says nothing is definite yet - the media is due to be briefed on Monday, ahead of next Wednesday's Cabinet.

Adult Social Care - a £4m hit in 2011/12. "This would leave unfunded the additional demand on the service from an increasing elderly population and mean that savings listed below would be needed to be made in order to balance the budget." Savings on domiciliary care. Cease provision of transport for service users - "a significant policy shift, formal consultation period, highly sensitive, may result in potential legal challenge."

Leisure - cut by £220,000. "As per list shown to members as part of Star Chamber (Bude Sea Pool, Budehaven Leisure Centre would be operated by school only, Camelford Leisure Centre, catering facility at Wadebridge, and Jubilee Pool (Penzance.)"

Rationalisation of libraries - cut by £250,000. "To transfer all Band 3 and community libraries to community operation" (volunteers? - GS) "to pursue the option for a single library provider" (out-of-county management? GS) "The details have not been fully worked out but the scale of the saving is fully achievable with probably politically and publically limited risk. Impact at 14 locations."

Libraries and One Stop Shops - £475,000 in 2012/13. "This more radical proposal would...reduce the service to nine key locations....Would expect some legal challenges around the 1964 Act, loss of face to face role for Cornwall Council and possible claw back of funds from lottery. Potential for 60 posts made redundant."

Review beach water safety, toilet provision and cleaning for non-owned beaches - £100,000 cut. "Cuts to provision on privately owned beaches are justifiable but it could damage Cornwall's image as Britain's top tourist destination."

Part removal of bus subsidy - £50,000 cut. "It could be argued that support for summer only services isn't critical, these mainly relate to services to/from Newquay and St Ives."

Truro Park & Ride - £250,000 cut. "Remove subsidy so that service has to breakeven as a minimum with aim to move to a profit situation."

Transport subsidies - £300,000 cut. "50% reduction."

Part removal of bus subsidy - £100,000. "Corlink Services in North Cornwall - a case could be made for replacing the current dial-a-ride service in the North Cornwall Corlink area with a normal bus service. This would save on call centre costs, on-board computer facilities on buses, maintenance agreements etc as well as being inherently cheaper than dial-a-ride."

Removal of Post-16 transport subsidy - £500,000 cut. "Council provision for post 16 students, which is an optional activity, and the council would save £1m. The hardship incurred may be negligible if the colleges pay for this transport themselves as they need to attract the students and students won't be attracted if they can't access the colleges."

Newquay airport - £75,000 cut. Increased income (passenger tax? - GS) and car park charges.

Waste - removal of all recycling banks. £168,000 cut.

Travel awareness service
- axed completely in a £300,000 cut.

Road safety education - £100,000 cut.

Children's Connexions (information and advice for 13-19 year-olds) - £400,000 cut. "May result in increased redundancy costs falling on council."

Cancel the "Cornwall Matters" newspaper column (this column is actually paid-for advertising - GS) - £50,000 cut.

There are other options, many of them even more radical, currently not recommended. All of this is based on the assumption of 0% increase in council tax for the next two years, with increases of 2% and 2.5% in years three and four. The formal decision on the budget will be at the full council meeting on 30th November.

Openness & transparency (or Catch 22 in Camelford)

If residents from the Camelford area had known what was going on in secret in the Cornwall Council Star Chambers a few weeks ago they would have sought to ask questions about their town's leisure centre at the scheduled Cabinet meeting on 13th October. Except that they couldn't, because it was an item concerning the budget, and the council decided to postpone discussion of the budget from that meeting to 27th October instead. Now the people of Camelford have been told they cannot ask questions about the budget at the 27th October meeting either - because it's a special meeting called to discuss only one item. Which is, er, the budget! Brilliant!

The Cornwall Council cabinet member with responsibility for leisure centres is St Ives Conservative Joan Symons, who has declined the opportunity to talk about budget cuts on BBC Radio Cornwall but has instead written to the Camelford Town Forum:
"I understand you will have a good representation at the Cabinet meeting next Wednesday, where you will have the opportunity to hear the full picture of the savings that Cornwall Council need to make. I fully understand your concerns but there will be many unpopular and hard decisions to make.
Kind Regards

Monday, 18 October 2010

Camelford leisure centre to close?

Impertinent journos have been pestering Cornwall Council to explain why staff at Camelford leisure centre have been told the council subsidy is being withdrawn at the end of the year. The council insists no decisions have been taken ahead of next week's Cabinet meeting, yet staff are equally insistent that they've been told to find a fresh source of revenue or find new jobs when the centre closes. Here's an extract from the council's statement:
".....the level of savings required within the Council's leisure service could not be identified within the existing operation. Following careful consideration of a range of issues, the leisure centre at Camelford which is run jointly with the local secondary school, has been identified as a site which the Council may no longer be able to finance and operate. The Council's Head of Leisure Services Simon Blamey recently met with the head teacher from the school to discuss the potential impact of this action. Staff from the Council will now be working with the school and staff from the centre to consider how the facility might operate in the future if the Council decides it can no longer finance and operate the centre."

Local residents, councillors, Facebook, Dan Rogerson MP etc are all being signed up to a "hands off Camelford" campaign. I think you'll be able to hear more about this on BBC Radio Cornwall tomorrow morning. The council has about 20 leisure centres in its portfolio and you wouldn't want to bet that any is safe. Next week's cabinet should be even more fun than usual.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

How I missed UKIP scoop

As the nation waits anxiously for UKIP to elect a new leader, friends helpfully tell me over dinner last night how I missed a major political scoop. It seems the previous UKIP leader, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, began his quest for control of his party at another dinner party hosted in the very same North Cornwall parish that is my privilege to call home. This was before he perfected the art of dealing with inquisitive TV reporters with the brilliant "Ah, now you're asking me about policy....I'm afraid I haven't actually read the manifesto" before going on to tell voters to back candidates from a rival political party. Nevertheless, a party leader is a party leader. I really should get out more.

Message from Mike Chappell

I am aware that people take what I write here and throw mockery at me on the This Is Cornwall website and the Graham Smith BBC blog. I actually helped Graham at the Rally by holding his camera kit for him because in truth, I feel no hatred for anyone. Nor do I care about mockery beacuse I have this to say.

I have been accused on those sites of being a bigot. Well I am not. I always refer to the people of Kernow not the Cornish people even though I am one. Yesterday I spent a few precious hours with my love, a German lady, a German citizen still who is a practising nurse in Cornwall. I count amongst my friends people from all over, of all creeds and colours, religions, sexual orientation so how can I be a bigot ? I am not and these words hurt me.

I have been interviewed by Mr Morris from one of the TV channels in Plymouth. He cannot understand why I do what I do. He found difficulty in believing that at 10AM tomorrow morning, it will have been seven days since I last ate. he asked for proof of this. Well I say to him and Cameron and Clegg ask any of my friends and they will tell you. I have lost a lot of weight and now do not feel so well but I know I must do this.

When I was but a ten year old boy my late grandfather took me to the top of Carn Brea and pushed my fingers into the soil and said to me 'Feel and listen son and you will feel the heart beat of Cornwall. Look around you and all that you see is yours. You are it and it is you. They cannot take that away from you.' And of course he was true. They cannot and will not take it away, will they dear friends ?

People doubt me, do not. I did not make Lowender Perran today because I feel somehow weakened but my determination and the love of my Cornwall will not nor will ever let me down.

I am no traitor, double agent, bigot or anything else. I am a Celtic Cornishman with love in my heart. My German love said she realised that I had a love for something more than her, more than my own life and she was true. That love is for Mother Kernow. I am strong made more so by the messages of support I have received. I do what I do for Kernow, for her peoples, for true democracy, for freedom and to fight the uncaring axis of evil in London in the Country next door.

Mur ras one hag oll !

Kernow bys vykken !

Mike Chappell X

Comedy corner?

How many people speak Cornish?

The Cornish Language Partnership website this month went bilingual, and at the click of your mouse you can now read and hear stuff in Cornish as well as English. According to the partnership's latest business plan its £212,000 budget falls 98% on the public purse, with only £5,000 from "earned" income.

A good week to bury bad news

Stand by for a blizzard of reports about cuts, cuts and more cuts. Here comes the week of the Comprehensive Spending Review - ambitious plans to pay off the previous government's mortgage within five years rather than the usual 25.

The news from Westminster is expected to be so unremittingly grim that a story will have to be outstandingly bad for it to get a mention. And any story about the closure of this or that local council service can conveniently be blamed on central government.

On Wednesday we should get our first peek at Cornwall Council's proposals for cutting £110 million over the next four years and possibly making 2,000 staff redundant. Convention, and democracy, dictates that the background papers for the special Cabinet on 27th October should be posted on the council's website no later than seven days before the meeting. But it might not happen that way.

The trade unions, for example, will be understandably miffed if the first they learn that this or that department is to become "commissioned" (privatised) is when the documents go on-line. They will probably (and quite properly) be briefed in advance.

Cornwall's Liberal Democrats, in opposition at County Hall despite having their hands dipped in the blood at Westminster, are in a tricky posiiton. Will they produce an "alternative budget" and make any serious suggestions as to where the axe should fall? Or will they just vote against the budget regardless? How can they do this without fingering Lib Dem Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander?

So I'm bracing myself for even more spin than usual. I won't be that surprised to hear from councillors on all sides that the cuts are not as bad as we had been lead to fear. But not until I've read for myself every line of every budget column will I believe it.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Barbarians at the gate

If you ask any politician active in Cornwall over the past 12 years what has been the most significant development in the local socio-economic infrastructure I suspect most will answer "a university."

Prior to 2003, Cornwall suffered a "brain drain" of bright young people who were either not interested in or able to study at the Camborne School of Mines or Falmouth College of Art. Thanks to a £50 million (largely European) investment, as a university college, Famouth has been able to award degrees in a wide variety of subjects since 2005.

Perhaps we too easily forget such hard-fought and recent victories. For surely the true mark of a civilisation in decline is that it teaches its children less than their parents. And yet for all the huffing and puffing in the news today about 7% or 8% cuts to the defence budget, next week we are likely to see cuts of nearly 80% (yes, that is 80%, not a typing error) to public funding for universities.

Abolition of the cap on tuition fees, allowing an American-style free-for-all (who can afford it) market in university places, is unlikely to benefit Cornwall. The scramble for places at the older established universities will become ever more acute, leaving Falmouth to think up new ideas just to attract lower-fee undergraduates - as it joins the ranks of the "secondary-moderns" of higher education.

Next weeks' public spending review looks as if it could force some universities to close or merge. Maybe Falmouth could seek shelter under the wing of Exeter, I don't know. I wonder how many column-inches, or broadcast-minutes, will be devoted to higher education, in next week's wall-to-wall coverage of the spending review?

I should perhaps declare an interest here, in that I have two teenage daughters who seem likely to be the last of their generation to get interest-free student loans to help them through higher education. Yet I remember the huge fuss when student loans replaced student grants - that seemed bad enough at the time. As I never went to university myself (neither did my parents, or grandparents) it matters very much to me that my children should.

What next? A lowering of the school-leaving age? More vocational courses for 16-year-olds who don't know what they want to do? Why stop there......isn't there a clear demand for nimble youngsters, keen to work for low wages, sweeping Cornwall's chimneys?

Students no longer agree with Nick

That's the trouble with all the media courses at universities these days...

Could Devonwall be government's downfall?

A couple of months ago I blogged about Early Day Motion 613, which at that time had attracted support from 45 potential Tory rebels. Just checked and that number has now risen to 61, which suggests things aren't exactly going to plan in the whips' office.

The rebels' main objection to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituency Boundaries Bill is to do with the timetable for the referendum on changing the first-past-the-post system to Alternative Vote. The Electoral Commission has said that for the referendum to go ahead on 5th May, the Bill has to satisfy Parliament by 5th November - which at the moment seems highly unlikely without a guillotine.

I've no idea of how many of those potential rebels would go so far as to actually vote against the government - 38 or more and we are very close to "crisis," confidence votes and the possibility of an early general election. Which makes the contribution of Cornwall's MPs, on the Devonwall aspect of the Bill, even more interesting.

When Kevin met Lazza

Kevin Lavery on Laurence Reed, 14th October 2010 from Graham Smith on Vimeo.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Kevin Lavery to take 5% pay cut

Cornwall Council chief executive Kevin Lavery has just announced he's taking a 5% pay cut from 1st January. Government says it should have been a 10% cut. We're hoping Kevin (£238,000 pa, including pension) will be on Laurence Reed's programme on BBC Radio Cornwall later - don't miss it!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Does Caesar's wife shop at Sainsbury's?

Cornwall Council's planners meet tomorrow to consider what sort of shopping experience is appropriate for Wadebridge. The options include an even bigger Tesco, a Morrisons on the football field and/or Sainsbury's on council-owned land at Higher Trenant. The Higher Trenant site is surplus to council requirements but its value increases dramatically if it gets planning permission for a supermarket.

The planners, of course, will be advised to banish from their minds any thought of the financial gain to the council should they be minded to approve the Sainsbury's application (and the official recommendation is that they should approve the Sainsbury's bid.) A conflict of interest? Surely councillors are above such things. Of course they are. The fact that Cornwall Council will not be able to afford its Grand Design for refurbishing County Hall at Truro, should the Sainsbury's application fail, will not enter their heads.

I am nevertheless curious as to why members of the council should have been offered the chance to take part in a discount-voucher shopping scheme which allows them to "save 5% off their weekly shopping bills" when they visit either Asda or Sainsburys. The scheme is promoted by a company called Motivano and has been offered to all council staff.

Nothing wrong with offering such corporate deals to staff - large employers, including the BBC, do it all the time. But should this include elected members, who are there to decide controversial issues of policy? Particularly if they have to weigh the merits of one supermarket against another?

I'm sure there is a perfectly straightforward explanation, and have asked Cornwall Council what advice (if any) councillors have been given to avoid any impression of conflicted interests.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Cornwall's Lib Dems invited to comment on university tuition fees

Remember when Nick Clegg signed a pledge to vote against any increase in university tuition fees? I've searched in vain - newspapers, TV, radio, web sites, blogs, Twitter feeds - for any sign of a Cornish Liberal Democrat rebellion over this issue.

One newspaper said 30 Lib Dem MPs were prepared to vote against the coalition government, but failed to name any from Cornwall. Lib Dem Voice has been full of it all day, but if there was a contribution from Cornwall then I must have missed it.

Business Secretary Vince Cable has accepted a report which recommends abolishing the cap on university tuition fees (currently about £3,300 a year). Cable has suggested £7,000 might become the norm with some universities charging much more. Analysts say the brave new competitive market in higher education means some universities could go out of business.

For what it's worth, the line generally taken in Lib Dem Voice has ranged from "I'll quit if this happens" to "Oh well the price of power....let's just say a big boy made us do it and then he ran away."

Once upon a time Cornwall's Lib Dems would phone me several times a day offering to comment on almost any news story, no matter how trivial. Now that there is something really very important to talk about, they've gone strangely quiet. But the comments section on this blog is still open...

Councillors' allowances back again

Next week's Cornwall Council meeting will once again debate the issue of members' allowances. In these times of austerity etc I very much doubt that many voices will be raised in favour of an increase. The issue will then go into the long grass until the 2011/12 financial year.

I have considerable sympathy for those councillors who really do work very hard for an hourly rate which is below the minimum wage. There are some, of course, who don't work quite so hard. Here is a zero-cost suggestion: halve the number of councillors and double the allowances paid to the remainder, achieving at a stroke a more efficient, professional class of local politician.

Controversial? Certainly. And I hear some complaining that the "wrong" people would get elected. Possibly - but don't we always get the government we deserve?

And where is that?

I'm grateful to the colleague who yesterday drew my attention to the official BBC guide to pronunciation. It's part of the BBC's labyrinthine internal website and I had never known that just by typing in "Launceston," for exampe, I could hear a speak-your-weight machine telling me the correct way to say it when reading the news (my query had been prompted by a newsroom discussion over Kabul. Is it Ka-bull, or Kar-bull? The BBC says it's Kar-bull.)

The BBC's recommended pronunciation of Launceston is "Lawn-sun" which came as something of a surprise because I've always called it "Lawn-stun" although I know many locals who call it "Lan-sun."

I once followed the Mayor of Launceston to Launceston in Tasmania for a story about local car parking (regional media had bigger budgets in those days) and was amused to discover that our cousins Down Under call it something else - "Lawn-cess-ton." I wonder if Cornish settlements around the world actually now have more authentic pronunciation of our towns and villages than we do?

I now look forward to hours of harmless fun typing in words to the BBC's pronunciation guide. Suggestions please.

Devonwall Bill gets thumbs down from experts

I always thought David Penhaligon's description of experts ("ex-spurts: ex is a has-been, spurts are drips under pressure") was slightly unfair. You quite often find valuable opinions from experts on Parliamentary Select Committees. For example, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the House of Commons has just published its view of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. It says:
"The government's failure to attempt to reach cross-party consensus on its boundary reform proposals adds fuel to the fire for those claiming the bill is being brought forward for partisan motives and may embolden future governments to do the same.

"The committee also questions why the public is not being offered a referendum on constituency boundary reform, which significantly affects how voters are represented in Parliament.

"While the committee agrees that there may be a case for reducing the number of MPs, it says the Government has singularly failed to make it.

"The impact of boundary reforms on local politics appears to have been given little or no consideration and the committee expresses concern about the potential impact of the current proposals on the ability of MPs to fulfil their responsibilities to their constituents."
I think David Penhaligon would have agreed.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Hundreds at Saltash for anti-Devonwall rally

Hundreds at Saltash for anti-Devonwall rally from Graham Smith on Vimeo.

The ethics of "off the record"

Some of my more gentle colleagues raised an eyebrow when they saw David Cameron's remarks about "Amazon-gate" broadcast, when he was quizzed about the Devonwall issue on ITV Westcountry last week. One Cornwall councillor told me that in his opinion it had been wrong to broadcast remarks which the Prime Minister thought were private.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. Gordon Brown never intended his "bigot-gate" remarks to be heard during the general election campaign. John Major, when he was Prime Minister, did not intend his description of cabinet colleagues as "bastards" to be heard by anyone other than the former ITN political editor Michael Brunson - he was also unaware that his microphone was "active" and being recorded in another room.

David Cameron's gaffe, at the Conservative Party conference, came about because he apparently did not realise the camera was recording. Well, he should have known. Regional television crews take it in turns to get their own political correspondents into the "hot seat" opposite the Prime Minister. About three minutes each is the usual deal and the whole thing takes about half an hour of the Prime Minister's time.

The cameras are in position the whole time. They record the whole time. David Cameron has done this every year since becoming leader of his party and can have no excuse for thinking the cameras were switched off.

This leads me to the wider point - that it is the journalist, and not the politician, who decides what is and what is not "off the record." There is a very simple rule - everything is on the record, unless specifically agreed in advance. Were it to be otherwise there would be no such thing as journalism - there would be only dictation.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Hundreds at Saltash for anti-Devonwall rally

Hundreds at Saltash anti-Devonwall rally from Graham Smith on Vimeo.

Why I need superfast broadband right now

We would all like faster downloads. But I need a faster upload, too, or the video of today's anti-Devonwall rally in Saltash is going to be very old news before it sees daylight. Most of the journos agreed the crowd was, eventually, somewhere between 400 and 500, serious yet good-natured. Meanwhile, elsewhere on my laptop, a little box tells me my upload is now 60% complete. Yeah yeah, I know - then it needs rendering - might make it before 10pm. At least I got to spend a sunny afternoon in Saltash. In any event, don't miss the coverage on BBC Radio Cornwall tomorrow morning.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Half-term report: could try harder

With shoes polished and pencils sharpened, the boys and girls return to Westminster on Monday, nearly six months since the general election. How are they getting on? It's beyond my competence to comment on how well they represent their individual constituencies but in terms of their Parliamentary performances, the website They Work For You (TWFY) provides a one-stop-shop information source which is ideal for slackers like me.

Since May, five of Cornwall's six Members of Parliament have yet to rebel against their own party on anything. Only Andrew George has recent experience of defying his whips (I therefore advise supporters of the Keep Cornwall Whole campaign not to put too much faith in their MPs when it comes to the crucial final stages of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.)

Andrew is also top of the class for the frequency of his contributions to debates and written questions, earning the TWFY label "well above average" for both. His voting record, 81%, is "average."

Dan Rogerson is "above average" when it comes to debates and written questions, and his 91% voting record is "above average."

Stephen Gilbert and Sarah Newton come equal third - Stephen is "below average" on debates and "average" on written questions; Sarah is the other way round, "average" on debates and "below average" on written questions. Stephen's voting record is 94% ("above average") but Sarah's is a truly impressive 98% ("well above average.")

George Eustice has contributed to only six debates ("well below average") and tabled only two written questions ("well below average.") Sheryll Murray has contributed to only five debates ("well below average") and tabled only one written question ("well below average.") Both have a voting record of 95% ("well above average.")

So apart from Andrew and Dan, Cornwall's MPs appear to be "above average" or "well above average" lobby fodder who have yet to learn how to catch the Speaker's eye. Or maybe they just don't have much to say.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Funding blow to former Parliament building

The Heritage Lottery Fund has refused a £360,000 grant application for the Old Duchy Palace at Lostwithiel. The former Stannary parliament building, which for more than 100 years served as a masonic lodge, was to have been turned into a function room, offices and information area. The Cornwall Buildings Preservation Trust and the Prince's Regeneration Trust are now considering other ways to secure the future of the Grade One listed building.

Sainsburys and Tesco set to win battle of Wadebridge

"To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers; but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers."
- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776

Cornwall's planners meet on Thursday to consider applications from Morrisons, Sainsburys and Tesco to either build new supermarkets or expand existing ones at Wadebridge. The officials' recommendations are now available. Sainsburys and Tesco get the nod; only Morrisons is recommended for refusal.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

In praise of....back-office staff

The latest set of performance-indicator statistics for Cornwall Council give us some insight into what happens when headcount reduces and workload stays the same. Average number of days taken to process claims for housing benefit and council tax benefit; percentage of telephone calls answered in less than 20 seconds, average number of days lost to long-term sickness and the average number of days lost to sickness per member of staff - all getting worse, and all now much worse than target. Homelessness is also getting worse. A report to next week's Cabinet says:
"There has been an increase in new Homeless presentations, particularly in the mid area of the county. This is in part due to increased demand which may be due to the economic climate, and also issues with staff shortages, due to both sickness and vacant posts, which has left our teams with less capacity to undertake early interventions to prevent cases becoming emergencies (and therefore needing temporary accommodation). To address this we are moving resources within the service and are also working with HR to manage our sickness and also work through the recruitment issues."
I wonder what "work through the recruitment issues" means in standard English. Keep Calm and Carry On?

Most influential on the Right

My premature post about Cornwall failing to secure representation in Iain Dale's top 50 Right wingers turned out to be correct after all. It's a fun list - Nick Clegg is number 3, Tony Blair at 12.

Credit where it's due

Cornwall Council's website really is rather good and I'm not the only one who thinks so - unique users up by a stonking 22,700 in just one month, to 258,331. Jobs, planning and housing are the most popular pursuits.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

"It's the Tamar, not the Amazon"

Congratulations to ITV Westcountry for bringing us this insight into how David Cameron sees the Devonwall issue. Here's the audio version, or you can see the whole thing on this link:

The right to be offensive (within House Rules)

"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear"
- yep, Orwell again, right as usual. I've just had a very interesting chat with the BBC people responsible for moderating comments on this blog. Across the BBC, they deal with up to 15,000 blog comments every day. So it can take a while for referred comments to see daylight. Commentators who "game the system" to deny to others the freedoms they enjoy themselves simply create work for BBC moderators, but it's not in my nature to ban anyone from this blog.

From Mike Chappell

"I have been interviewed by the Radio and Newspapers this past 24 hours as well as announcing on my own Radio Station that I shall be in attendance at the Rally at saltash on Sunday and urge One & All to be there and to avail themselves of the transport being organised via Mayor Killeya's team.

"I have also confirmed that should the Boundary which has been extant for 1,000 years be ignored by the evil alliance of a Government then from that day I shall not eat food until it is restored.

"Many have questioned my loyalty to Kernow down the years but let it be known that although I have a beautiful woman in my life again, Kernow was, is and always will be my first love and I am prepared to give my all to her.

"Not the words of a maniac but of someone who has spent many months preparing himself for this.

"Please please I urge you to support rally. After that, if the wicked people in London ignore us, then I shall execute my promise to the full.

Kernow bys vykken !


Does Julia count?

One of Cornwall's Lib Dems texts me to ask why my account of Iain Dale's top 50 Liberal Democrats failed to mention former Falmouth & Camborne MP Julia Goldsworthy. A good question, and I am happy to concede - it should be for Cornwall's Lib Dems to decide whether Julia is "one of them" or not. As a special advisor to the Treasury Chief Secretary she is certainly influential, although Liberal Democrats on Cornwall Council might want to distance themselves from her when considering the impact of £108million cuts now coming Cornwall's way. In my defence I can say that I was originally scanning the list for elected politicians, and the question of whether or not someone comes from Cornwall (did once, but not now?) is clearly something in need of definition.

Sunshine supermen

Listen!For those who missed it, here's my offering to BBC Radio Cornwall's breakfast programme this morning - a report on how solar power developers are touring the Cornish countryside, seeking south-facing fields and offering to line the pockets of farmers and other landowners who like the idea of watching the sun shine and their bank accounts expand.

I've been interested in renewable energy most of my adult life - a schoolboy enthusiasm for engineering put me among the early supporters of the Centre for Alternative Technology in the 1970s and Ive had a passive solar collector, for hot water, on the roof of my house for nearly 20 years. These days almost everyone agrees that we need a mixed basket of energy sources, including renewables, and that most of all we should try to use less energy in the first place. What in 1974 was far-out hippy nonsense has become mainstream government policy.

I have to confess, however, that I am unable to dispute the logic which underpins George Monbiot's critique of the way the solar power feed-in tariffs simply transfer wealth from the taxpayer to those private individuals fortunate enough to own a bit of spare land. £75,000 a year just for renting out a field? If it was happening under the aegis of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy the Daily Mail would be denouncing it as completely bonkers. Where is the Taxpayers' Alliance when you need them?

Monday, 4 October 2010

Cornwall's Tories not very influential either

It was a jolly good wheeze of Iain Dale to list the top 50 influential politicians from the various wings - here's his take on the top 50 Right-wingers. As with the Lib Dems, none is from Cornwall. Several of them are not even in the Conservative Party.
Iain's list of the top 50 Lefties does include one from Cornwall - Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas, born in Helston. OK, maybe that's cheating. Politicians from Cornwall's nationalist movement fail to make it into any of the lists, although if you would like to have a go at compiling one yourself, feel free to do so here.

Party pooper (3)

Just waiting for George Osborne to do his "no pain, no gain" bit at the Conservative Party conference. The question of whose pain, and whose gain, I shall leave to you. Meanwhile let's ponder a couple of the weekend opinion polls: YouGov in the Sunday Times had the Conservatives on 39, Labour on 41 and the Lib Dems on 11. ICM/Guardian had the Conservatives on 35, Labour 37 and Lib Dems on 18. Can anyone think of any previous government which has gone quite so quickly from election victory to second place in the voters' affections? And suggestions, please, for why on-line polls produce such low numbers for the Lib Dems...

Friday, 1 October 2010

Blog changes history

Cornwall Council's website has a "timeline" of Cornish history which used to quote the Kilbrandon Report as "recommending" that official sources should cite Cornwall as a Duchy and not a county. Last month I went to the original document and quoted, verbatim and in context, what Kilbrandon had actually said.

I notice that the Cornish Studies Library, which maintains the timeline for the Council, has now bravely dipped a toe into these controversial waters and changed the course of history. The entry now reads "suggests/recommends" and, crucially, has restored Kilbrandon's own word "appropriate" (Kilbandon actually said "on all appropriate occasions") - which makes all the difference, because the context links the word "Duchy" to the Royal family.

If anyone can find where Kilbrandon specifically says Cornwall should be called a Duchy, please let me know. And nowhere can I find where Kilbrandon says he "recommends" the use of the word Duchy. He simply makes a statement of fact about what "would serve to recognise both this special relationship and the territorial integrity of Cornwall, on which our witnesses laid great stress." His language is permissive, rather than an instruction or exhortation.

Perhaps the Cornish Studies Library, having taken another deep breath, would in the interests of accuracy and objectivity like to go a step further and also remove the word "recommends."

Kilbrandon was an expensively-educated Scottish lawyer whose command of language was probably sufficient for him to express himself with a reasonable degree of clarity and precision. If he had wanted the government to legislate for use of the word Duchy, he would have made his sentiments quite clear. But he didn't. Maybe he didn't think it was worth the effort. So anyone can call Cornwall a Duchy, or a county, as they see fit, where appropriate. And if you think I'm making this up, go and read the Kilbrandon Report yourself.