Sunday, 27 February 2011

The end of the affair

Pursuant to my earlier post, I have decided to stop following Bianca Jagger on Twitter. There's no doubting the sincerity of her support for human rights' causes, but frankly she Tweets so much she leaves me no time to read anyone else.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Safeguarding Cornwall's children

Ofsted has just published its report. The word "inadequate" is still there, including in relation to leadership and management. Ofsted says the council must Immediately:
* ensure that potential risks to looked after children are promptly and effectively identified
* ensure that poor practice is improved and that effective challenge to poor practice is provided by managers and by independent reviewing officers
* ensure that practice is compliant with statutory requirements for those looked after children who are placed with their parents or their families.

Notwithstanding the long sorry history of children's services, officials at County Hall had been hoping for better news than this. The word "disappointing" doesn't even begin to describe it.

The old transparency chestnut again

As Cornwall Council wrestles with its conscience over whether or not to allow broadcasters to record meetings (the score so far - Council 1, conscience 0) some senior officials might be interested in the view of Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, whose contribution to the Conservative Home blog is enlightening:
"'s disappointing that some council officers seem stuck in the analogue age: with some banning videoing, tweeting or liveblogging. One councillor was even suspended after uploading clips from the council's own public livestream onto youtube. Meanwhile, another council decided that only accredited journalists would be allowed to tweet from council meetings. When councils make these sorts of petty decisions, at best they look foolish and out of touch; at worst they look like they have something to hide."

This is one of those issues where the council's elected members, generally, are ahead of some officials: the members get the fact that the council is still a local authority, and not (yet) a PLC. While the council's webcasting is a great step forward, the demands of TV and radio journalists will not go away. By excluding the broadcasters' cameras and microphones from meetings, the council is demonstrably less transparent than its predecessor, the old Cornwall County Council.

Caret Confidential

An update on my value-for-money question about the £9,356.91 training course apparently needed to appraise the performance of Cornwall Council chief executive Kevin Lavery. Here is the council's reply, which I have to say is a text-book example of how not to answer a question:

"The Council arranged for an appraisal of the Chief Executive's performance to be carried out by an organisation that could provide an obviously objective approach in both the design of the process and in its execution, which Caret Ltd undertook in consultation with the Leader.

"The company representatives interviewed senior officers, members, and representatives from outside organisations (Government Office South West and the Regional Development Agency) - those interviews were carried out with an expectation of confidence being attributed to the remarks.

"The purpose of the appraisal process for the Chief Executive is no different than that for the appraisals undertaken with all the council's staff i.e. to have a valuable discussion with their employer in order to gauge their performance to date and to explore areas for further development. The only difference is the method of execution due to the position of Chief Executive, there being no 'line manager' in the conventional sense.

"A report prepared by the company following the interviews, which was then presented to a panel of councillors (chosen by the Leader) in a confidential meeting. The content of the report and the discussions that followed in the meeting are confidential in the same way that all staff appraisals are confidential.

"Applying the FOI Act to this, as suggested in your email, it is the council's position that the report is personal data under section 40(2) of the Act. The Chief Executive's views have been sought and he has confirmed that his understanding of the appraisal process is that it was confidential and that the report prepared is also confidential.

"The comments given in the discussions with third parties, members and officers were given with an expectation that they would be treated in confidence. Whilst, of course , the Chief Executive is accountable for decisions he takes, it is not unreasonable for discussions with his employer concerning his performance in his role to remain confidential to those concerned. The Information Commissioner has acknowledged this approach in recent cases."

On-line tools

The "census tick-box issue" is one of many which these days attracts on-line campaigns; so many that I can't keep up with them all. Until yesterday I had never heard of the Pledge Bank, a way of recording on-line your sentiment in favour of this or against that.

Needless to say there was a Pledge Bank campaign about the desirability of a Cornish tick-box on the census form. It had set a deadline of 1st January to collect 1,000 names. Among the 639 names which the Pledge Bank did record, I notice "inbred product," "Complete Sad Arse" and "Oh my GOD...get over it!!! YOU'RE NOT A COUNTRY!!!" This latter entry appears twice.

I'm sure many of the 639 names are real people - I assume Julian German, Graeme Hicks and Scott Mann are the same people who also serve as Cornwall councillors. Interestingly, Mebyon Kernow leader Dick Cole doesn't appear to have signed up.

You do have to wonder about the effectiveness of on-line tools such as the Pledge Bank. I can't see it making much progress in Libya at the moment.

Why the list of second homes is secret

My thanks to Cornwall Council for this prompt response to my question:

"The Council does hold lists of empty properties in Cornwall but considers that the information is exempt under Section 40 (2) (Personal Information) and Section 31 (1) (a) (Law Enforcement) of the Act. We believe that the majority of empty properties in Cornwall would be privately owned dwellings and that this information would be considered personal information under the Act.

"The whole list of empty properties held by the Council is therefore being withheld from disclosure under Section 40 (2) Personal Information as disclosure would breach Principle 1 of the Data Protection Act 1998.

"Section 31 (1) (a) (Law Enforcement) also applies to any privately owned addresses because there is strong public interest in avoiding likely prejudice to the prevention of crime by reducing the possibility of damage to an empty property and distress to its owner."

I do see the council's point on this - although I suppose it depends on how you define the "prejudice to the prevention of crime." Possible burglary vs possible electoral fraud? I'll seek the views of the Information Commissioner.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Second home voters - why they matter

To its credit, Cornwall Council has compiled a register of properties whose owners seek a discount on their council tax because it is not their principle place of residence.

This document is secret and I'm trying to find out why. Clearly, it has the potential to be something of a "burglars' charter" but it is also a valuable political campaign tool. Since it was researched and written at public expense, I'm curious to know why it is not in the public domain.

Readers with long memories will recall the St Ives constituency Parliamentary election of 1987. Now, I'm all in favour of inclusivity and making it easier for people to vote, but in St Ives that year quite a few people apparently made it to the polling station despite the considerable handicap of being dead.

What had happened was that well organised political activists had harvested the proxy votes of elderly residents in nursing homes. Clearly, they were alive when they signed over their proxy votes. But they were dead by polling day.

The council's register of second homes should make it possible to disqualify, or at least question, people seeking to cast general election votes from those addresses. But for local elections the law is far less demanding - it is possible to vote in council elections wherever you are on the electoral register.

So in local council by-elections, where the turnout is low, and postal votes can play a significant role, there must be a temptation to harvest the potential of the second home owner. As the government seems in no hurry to address this issue, it seems only fair that the information should be freely available to all election candidates, and not just those rich enough to organise detailed campaigns.

I have asked the council for further details about why the register of second homes is "not a public document." A balance between "right to know" and "data protection?" This might be one for the Information Commissioner.

Nationalism - quote unquote

An invitation to submit quotes from people (other than George Orwell) with something to say on the subject of nationalism. For example:
"Nationalism is an infantile sickness. It is the measles of the human race."
- Albert Einstein

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

How Graeme's Duchy jibe disgusted Doris

I'd be interested to know the basis of the legal advice which eventually forced Cornwall Council cabinet member Graeme Hicks to apologise to the council's Lib Dem leader Doris Ansari for his suggestion that she might consider returning her OBE in protest at Duchy of Cornwall proposals to develop land to the east of Truro.

Is there not a long and reasonably honourable tradition of returning gongs in protest at something? I don't know if John Lennon started it when he surrendered his MBE in 1969 in protest at the "Nigeria-Biafra thing" and one of his records slipping down the charts, but we were all reminded of gong-dissing as recently as last week, when Eaves charity chief exec Denise Marshall gave up her OBE in protest at how she thought government spending cuts would impact on vulnerable women.

As you can hear from the clip, Truro councillor Bert Biscoe does his best to pour petrol and lighted matches on the troubled waters and Doris is encouraged to be duly disgusted. Council leader Alec Robertson, attempting to chair the meeting, has my sympathies.

How to be Cornish

I'm grateful to The Cornish Republican for drawing my attention to this website which advises us how to fill in the 2011 census form. But spare a thought for those poor souls from the Office for National Statistics who have to juggle a huge number of competing claims for "tick-box" self-identification as ethnic groups, including Welsh, English and several Asian or Arab sub groups. Indeed, for those who want to be really picky about which group they think they belong to, I suggest this 1997 Home Office research document devised to help police monitor and interpret their arrest statistics. If you were devising a census form, which ethnic groups would you deny a tick-box, and why?

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

George Orwell on Celtic Nationalism

One of the joys of the modern age is being able to re-read, on a small palm-sized electrical device, many of the books which have accompanied me through most of my life. In May 1945 George Orwell published his "Notes on Nationalism" essay, with this section on the Celts:
"Welsh, Irish and Scottish nationalism have points of difference but are alike in their anti-English orientation. Members of all three movements have opposed the war while continuing to describe themselves as pro-Russian, and the lunatic fringe has even contrived to be simultaneously pro-Russian and pro-Nazi. But Celtic nationalism is not the same thing as anglophobia. Its motive force is a belief in the past and future greatness of the Celtic peoples, and it has a strong tinge of racialism. The Celt is supposed to be spiritually superior to the Saxon -- simpler, more creative, less vulgar, less snobbish, etc. -- but the usual power hunger is there under the surface. One symptom of it is the delusion that Eire, Scotland or even Wales could preserve its independence unaided and owes nothing to British protection. Among writers, good examples of this school of thought are Hugh McDiarmid and Sean O'Casey. No modern Irish writer, even of the stature of Yeats or Joyce, is completely free from traces of nationalism."
Readers are invited to speculate about why Orwell doesn't mention Cornwall.

Mid-life crisis?

If, 30 years ago, I had ever drawn up a list of things I thought I would never do, this would probably have been on it: I now follow Bianca Jagger on Twitter.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Cornwall's vote on AV referendum will be declared separately

At some point in the early hours on Friday 6th May we will find out Cornwall's verdict on the question of whether or not to change the voting system for Parliamentary elections. County Hall officials tell me that once the ballot result, with counts at two locations (as for the general election) has been communicated to London, it will be announced locally.

This is potentially quite interesting, although perhaps not as interesting as I had first thought. Recalling the 1975 referendum on the Common Market, I set out to see how Cornwall voted 36 years ago. The answer is that 68.5% of people in Cornwall voted to stay in, 31.5% voted to come out and the turn-out in Cornwall was 66.8%. Almost exactly the same figures as for the rest of the country.

For some reason I had always thought Cornwall had been hostile to the Common Market - but clearly I was wrong. In fact, only Shetland, and the Western Isles, in Scotland, voted to leave.

Tick here for the Cornish Jedi option

If you get the chance, do listen to BBC Radio Cornwall just after 7am on Monday. We hope to interview someone from the Office for National Statistics about the launch of a new campaign to raise awareness of Census Day on 27th March.

I anticipate a few questions about the controversial decision not to include a "tick box" for those who wish to describe themselves as Cornish. In 2001, at the last census, about 34,000 described themselves as Cornish even without a tick box (I think most statisticians would accept that including a tick box for any particular option makes it easier to select.)

In the same census, of course, more than 390,000 people across the UK described their ethnic or religious background as "Jedi" - and I suspect that not all of them were necessarily fans of the Star Wars movies. There was no tick box for Jedis, either.

Whose money is it?

The 2009/2010 spreadsheet detailing the finances of Cornwall's schools offers a few more nuggets: nearly one in six Cornish secondary schools ended that financial year in debt, yet secondary headteachers seem better able to spend their revenues than their colleagues in primary schools.

The total resources available to Cornwall's secondary schools that year was nearly £178 million. Their total uncommitted revenue balance at year end was only £2.1 million. In contrast, Cornish primary schools had less money available (£160 million) yet trousered an impressive £4.4 million (more than enough to build a new school in St Tudy.)

I've spent an interesting couple of days trying - and mostly failing - to get primary headteachers to talk about this. The argument that the money is needed for specific projects does not bear scrutiny. If you include the figure for committed revenue balances (an extra £8.8 million) you see that they actually reached the end of the year with more than £13 million in the bank.

I accept that it is comforting to go into a new financial year able to deal flexibly with unforseen staffing issues and repair things promptly when they break or wear out. But at what point does "prudent saving" become simply "saving for a rainy day" - which might or might not ever come?

It is now 23 years since Margaret Thatcher's government introduced Local Management of Schools, snipping the purse strings of the elected local councils and promoting headteachers to the role of mini chief executives.

I'm afaid I rather annoyed one primary school headteacher this week when I questioned his use of the phrase "we're running a business." While I don't dispute that schools need to be run in a business-like way, state schools are not required to return a financial profit on our investment. They are merely required to educate our children.

Friday, 18 February 2011

To have and have not

My eyes are hurting as a result of staring a five-page spreadsheet with rather small type which offers a snapshot of school finances in Cornwall. These are all state schools and I'm grateful to Cornwall Council for providing the data.

What is striking is the huge difference between the richest and the poorest. Truro's Archbishop Benson, for example, had more than £75,000 spare at the end of the year. By contrast Heamoor Community primary in Penzance was more than £60,000 overdrawn.

There are about 230 state primary schools in Cornwall and all of them enjoy a considerable degree of local management - indeed, the direction of travel of current government thinking is to increase the role of local management, and reduce further the role of the local authority.

So what does the data tell us? Clearly some schools are richer than others. But why is this? Does it mean that some local management is better than others?

Here are the top ten Cornish primary schools and their uncommitted revenue balances as for the 2009/20010 financial year. Remember, these are all state schools:

Archbishop Benson Church of England £75,428
Burraton Community £72,662
St Mewan £66,624
Newquay Junior £59,443
Treloweth £59,044
Bosvigo £55,013
Bishop Bronscombe £54,820
Penryn Junior £54,602
St Stephen churchtown £53,882
St Francis Church of England £51,493

By contrast, Heamoor is minus £60,655. Several schools reached the end of the year with only a few thousand to spare; Trannack community primary near Helston had only £332.

The average uncommitted revenue balance per school is about £19,000, although I counted 17 primary schools which ended the 2009/2010 financial year in debt.

The total for uncommitted reserves for Cornish primary schools in 2009/2010 was more than £4.4 million. That's money in the bank, hopefully earning interest. Did anyone ever say it was for educating children?

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Second home voters - don't hold your breath

My thanks to St Ives MP Andrew George for letting me see this letter from Cabinet Office minister Mark Harper, which appears to be the government's reply to the "important and urgent" letter sent by Cornwall Council, eventually, in November. "I will give this matter further consideration," says Mr Harper. What odds of reform before the 2015 general election?

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A little learning is a dangerous thing

Enjoying a bit of sport with Cornwall Council's transparency spreadsheet, trying to identify what beanos executive training courses we've been paying for. In November, for example, we forked out £9,356.91 to Caret Ltd. When I asked the council why, this was the response:
"The £9,500 paid to Caret Ltd relates to training and development provided to the panel of elected Members set up by the former Implementation Executive to carry out a formal appraisal into the performance of the Chief Executive of the Council. Appraisals are a mandatory part of the Council's performance management process, with all members of staff taking part in an annual review of their performance to ensure they are meeting the targets set for them and to identify their development needs. In the case of the Chief Executive the appraisal is carried out by a panel of Members. As this was the first performance appraisal carried out by Members of the new unitary council, it was agreed to enlist the services of an external organisation which specialises in this area of work. The work carried out by Caret Ltd included carrying out interviews with representatives of partner organisations outside the Council to gain an objective view of the leadership of the Chief Executive , as well as providing specialist training for members of the panel."

The spreadsheet tells us we also spent £1,500 at the University of Paisley and £848.30 for the White Duck Coaching Company.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Bewnans Kernow

Congratulations to the internet television setup for covering the Bewnans Kernow conference at County Hall - enabling me to watch and listen to proceedings without a 60-mile round-trip. The webcasting equipment appears to be that used by Cornwall Council - is this the first time it's been used by an outside, commercial organisation?

It looks as if there are about 70 people there and most of the talk so far has been about tourism, with general agreement that using the words "Cornwall" and "Cornish" are useful marketing tricks. Who'd have thought it!

Bert Biscoe has just suggested that within the next 20 years he would prefer to see a shift towards use of the word "Kernow" instead. Kevin Lavery, sitting next to him, has encouraged this conference but isn't smiling or nodding so it's hard to tell what he thinks of this idea. Incidentally, Kevin appears to be wearing a tie-less floral shirt that would have been very fashionable in 1976 (the reason I know this is that I still have mine, too.)

Time for coffee.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Why Doris's name is missing

More than 90 senior Liberal Democrat councillors wrote to the Times to complain about the cuts. But the leader of Cornwall's Lib Dem council group, Doris Ansari, was not among them. Why not? You might reasonably expect the leader of an Opposition group to join the protest. Doris says she would have signed up, but missed the deadline because she didn't read her emails in time. Here's her contribution to BBC Radio Cornwall yesterday.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Who voted for Cornwall?

The unsuccessful pro-Cornwall amendment was tabled by Lord Robin Teverson, who managed to persuade only ten of his Lib Dem colleagues to back him. Plus 177 Labour peers, 27 crossbenchers, four "others", a Conservative and a bishop. The only way for pro-Cornwall MPs to keep the issue alive now is to oppose the Bill when it returns to the Commons - and kiss goodbye to a referendum on changing the voting system. 63 Lib Dem Lords and 153 Conservatives voted against Cornwall. I think you can hear an interview with Robin Teverson on BBC Radio Cornwall tomorrow morning.

Cornwall finally loses its political boundary

I hope to have an interview with Lord Teverson on BBC Radio Cornwall tomorrow morning.
PA has just filed this:
An attempt to prevent any parliamentary constituencies straddling Cornwall and
Devon failed in the House of Lords tonight.
Peers voted by 250 to 221, Government majority 29, to back the position of
ministers that Cornwall should not be exempted from provisions aimed at
equalising the size of constituencies.
The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, which also sets up a
referendum on changing the voting system in Westminster elections, is likely to
result in a constituency split between Cornwall and Devon.
The issue has caused controversy in the South West, amid prominent campaigns
aimed at preventing constituencies crossing the River Tamar which divides the
two counties.
Liberal Democrat ex-MEP for Cornwall Lord Teverson introduced an amendment
which would prevent the county and the Isle of Scilly being linked to any other
parts of the UK.
He said: "We have a situation where Cornwall is seen not just by Cornish
people themselves, but by the people that move into Cornwall as well, as the
fourth Celtic nation of the United Kingdom.
"It has a Celtic language, Celtic place names and family names. It has
therefore a tradition and it was not a part of Anglo-Saxon England.
"It is this area of culture, history, geography which makes Cornwall and the
Isles of Scilly a very important exception that should be recognised in this
The legislation as originally introduced prevents all but two constituencies
varying by more than 5% from the average size of around 76,000 voters, although
peers tonight defeated the Government to allow the discretion to reach 7.5% in
"exceptional circumstances".

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

From bailiff fees to window cleaners - it's all here

In October and November alone, Cornwall Council spent more than £26,500 on bailiff fees in pursuit of unpaid local taxes. November's window cleaning bill was £587.50. The same month's bill for bed and breakfast (ie failure to provide housing) more than £73,600 The council spends several thousand pounds a month on "adult books" - but I'm sure it's not what you think. Just to be sure, I have asked...

STOP PRESS: Council confirms it buys "Adult Books" for libraries as opposed to "Children's Books."

A little bit of transparency goes a long way (and back, with chauffeur)

Huge thanks to the Cornwall Council staffer who told me how to fathom the on-line "transparency" spending details. I am suddenly like a child in a sweet shop, not knowing where to look next.

For instance, it might not be news that taxpayers foot the bill for council chairman Pat Harvey's taxis - but I didn't know that in only the two months published so far, she'd clocked up £3,071.45 of motoring with Select Travel Services. The on-line details don't tell us what sort of vehicle Pat travels in, but it's good to know that she's in safe hands. Select Travel is "The only chauffeur company in the World to offer Marilyn Monroe's 1956 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud."

Another defeat for government over Devonwall Bill

The House of Lords inflicted anther blow to the government last night, when Jeff Rooker's amendment requiring a minimum 40% turn-out in the AV referendum was carried by just one vote. Pressure on ministers to grant concessions is mounting. Next week's deadline for Royal Assent is starting to look very close.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Most council chiefs told Pickles "hands off my salary"

Cornwall Council boss Kevin Lavery took some flak recently for taking only a 5% cut in his £200,000 + perks salary - Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles had asked for 10%. But according to a survey by the Local Government Chronicle, Kevin is one of the good guys: three quarters of council chief executives ignored Pickles completely.

Blog Kernow

Anyone know what's happened to this useful aggregator of Cornwall's political blogs? It used to be at but now all I get is "server not found."

Sir John cost Cornwall £2,000/day

Here is the reply to last night's email. Although it doesn't quite answer all of my questions (leaving us to assume 22.5 days so far) I have agreed to withdraw my FOI application.
Johnson Matthey has submitted invoices totalling £45,000 in respect of the time Sir John Banham has spent away from the company carrying out preparatory work in relation to the formation of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.

It had been previously agreed that the selection of initiation chairman would be a decision for the private sector as the LEP is a private sector led partnership. Sir John's name was originally suggested at a meeting of private sector representatives convened by Camborne and Redruth MP George Eustice in November, and was then subsequently endorsed by the board of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Economic Forum.

The payment is based on an agreed daily rate of £2,000 equating to 50% of Sir John Banham's usual Johnson Matthey rate and covers the period from the week beginning 29 November when he attended an initial meeting to discuss his role as initiation chairman to 31 January 2011.

It is anticipated that Sir John will continue to work in his new Ambassadorial role to support the formation of the LEP until the end of March 2011 when the new Board and Chairman are expected to be in place.

How to be a Chief Executive

One of the penalties of my recent holiday was that I missed the launch of Cornwall Council's latest stab at "transparency" - the on-line publication of all expenditure over £500, including details of senior officer salary bands and other tasty morsels.

I'm sure this was a real challenge for the IT and accounts people at County Hall, who deserve our thanks for this service to democracy. There is so much information that, frankly, only the Audit Commission could properly make sense of it. Er...

My own initial cursory glance could find no scandals. I did however think that the expenses claims of chief executive Kevin Lavery would provide good sport, and I wasn't entirely disappointed.

I don't know how long Kevin spends each month filling in his expenses, but you have to admire his attention to detail. No car journey is too short to avoid a claim - even from New County Hall to Truro (one mile.) He also seems to be on a deal which allows him to claim mileage from his home.

On the basis of the four months I examined, he seems to claim more than 6,500 miles per year - which I am sure is 100% genuine, but I wonder why the council doesn't just give him a white van, which under today's tax rules would probably be cheaper.

Taxpayers also cover his domestic BT claims, including broadband. When he needs to go to London, Kevin often flies from Newquay to Gatwick (so do I,) claiming £13.80 for parking at the council-owned airport and then gets the Gatwick Express (standard class) and when necessary stays in £120-a-night hotels (more than I can afford but hardly extravagant.)

As far as I can tell, every single one of the expenses now available for you to read on the council's website is within the rules, and our £200,000/year chief exec is perfectly entitled to claim them.

Personally I am absolutely useless at claiming expenses. The form-filling and authorisations required are so time-consuming that 99 times out of 100 I just can't be bothered, and I know my bank account is much the poorer for it. I would make a terrible bureaucrat.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

God give me patience - but hurry!

On 22nd December 2010 I asked Cornwall Council several questions about the Local Enterprise Partnership and its interim chairman, Sir John Banham. For weeks I have been promised an answer "soon" and last week I made repeated calls to see if I could get my answers without recourse to an application under the Freedom of Information Act. Each FOI application costs taxpayers an average of about £250 to deal with. By close of play on Friday - not a squeak. So with a heavy heart, and in the hope that common sense might yet prevail, I have just despatched another email:

Please take this email as an application under Freedom of Information legislation to find out:

(a) The cost to Cornwall Council of Sir John Banham's engagement as interim chairman of the Local Enterprise Partnership
(b) To whom this money is paid (presumably Johnson Matthey - just checking)
(c) Details of any memos of understanding, or contract with Johnson Matthey, outlining the amount of time Sir John was expected to work on the LEP. Specifically I want to know how many days Sir John worked on the LEP project and therefore understand his daily rate.
(d) The date on which Sir John was first asked to work as interim chairman - as his first draft prospectus is dated early December, I expect this date to be sometime in November or possibly even earlier.
(e) The date on which Sir John's role as interim chairman is expected to end.
(f) A list of all correspondence between Cornwall Council and Sir John about the LEP - indeed, unless it is exempt under FOI, I would like to inspect the file.

Many thanks


Friday, 4 February 2011

What's it worth to be Cornish?

A couple of years ago Cornwall Council set out to identify those organisations which could broadly be described as both "cultural" and "Cornish" - two words for which precise and exhaustive definitions might still be some way off.

Nevertheless, the challenge has now been met sufficiently to call a conference at County Hall to seek ways of exploiting "Cornwall's inherent characteristics" for commercial gain. Bewnans Kernow is the outfit behind this conference, titled "Cornish Identity - Good for Business."

Speakers include Kevin Lavery (Chief Executive, Cornwall Council), Malcolm Bell (Head of VisitCornwall), Phil Ugalde (Chairman, Proper Cornish Food), Cornwall Cllr Bert Biscoe, Will Coleman (Director, CALIBAN), Julie Russell (Tourism Society, Wales) and David Bailey (Census Area Manager for Cornwall). Proceedings will be opened by the Chairman of Cornwall Council, Mrs Pat Harvey, and the Grand Bard, Mick Paynter.

It all kicks off at 10am on Saturday 12th February. I hope to be there.

Unhatched chickens

The Devonwall Bill is due to start its Report stage in the House of Lords next week. Which makes this extract from a Cornwall Council press release a model of restrained understatement:
"To enable the referendum to be held on 5 May the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill needs to be passed by Parliament by 16 February. While there is still some uncertainty over this being achieved, the Council is launching a recruitment campaign to ensure that it has enough trained staff if the referendum does take place on that day."
Anyone interested in finding out more is being invited to attend one of a series of election recruiting workshops which are being held across Cornwall between Monday, 21 February and Friday, 25 February. Elections service staff will be on hand to provide information and advice or just to have an informal chat about what is involved.

These workshops are taking place on:

Monday 21 Feb St Austell One Stop Shop (OSS) 2.00pm
Tuesday 22 Feb Carrick House OSS, Truro 10.00am
Wed 23 Feb Luxstowe House OSS, Liskeard 10.00am
Thursday 24 Feb Roskear School, Camborne 10.00am
Thursday 24 Feb Wadebridge OSS 2.30pm
Friday 25 Feb Penzance OSS 10.00am

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Is there a spin doctor in the house?

I suppose I shouldn't really be in the business of promoting other BBC hacks' blogs, but I congratulate our regional political editor Martyn Oates for this entry about Cornwall Council's approach to the Supporting People budget. Council leader Alec Robertson is a likeable cove who tries earnestly to tell the truth as he sees it. So why was his performance in this TV interview such a train crash? Was it the messenger, or the message?

Back in the groove

Holiday over and my first day back in the office now behind me. Only 392 emails still unread.

Clearly lots of stuff happened while I was away, such as the news that Sir John Banham will not, after all, become chairman of the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.

This opens up lots of new questions, including details of the "open and transparent" procedure for appointing the LEP board. There are also some old questions still unanswered - such as how much the failed attempt to get Sir John into the LEP chair has cost the Cornwall Council taxpayer.

I have reminded Cornwall Council that I first asked this question on 22nd December. I'm promised an answer by tomorrow.