Monday, 31 December 2012

All along the watchtower

My New Year resolution - to get many more readers for this blog, and to pay more attention to where they are. Google Analytics tells me that I seem to have more readers in the United States than I do in the UK, possibly because of this post from 2009.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Chiefs and Indians

While the corridors of power at Cornwall and Isles of Scilly councils echo to rumours of who thinks they might put their hats into the ring, I read in Conservative Home that some councils can do without a chief executive at all.

Keystone news

No police force in the South West currently has a chief constable, following the election of commissioners in November.  I wonder if crime has gone up, down or remained the same?  Perhaps we should wait for the evidence before rushing to appoint any new chief constables.  Meanwhile I learn that in the Devon and Cornwall force area there were 99 incidents in 2010 and 2011 where tasers were fired but no criminal charges were brought by police. The force has not yet given details for 2012.

Accidents will happen

Today's news from the Health and Safety Executive:

"Employers are being urged to focus on real risk after seven workers lost their lives and 663 suffered a major injury while at work in Devon and Cornwall last year.  The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has asked business to rethink workplace safety provisions in the New Year after the number of deaths in Great Britain as a whole failed to show a significant fall in 2011/12.

"A total of 173 workers were killed at work in Great Britain last year, compared to 175 worker deaths during 2010/11. More than 23,000 workers also suffered a major injury. The seven deaths and 663 major injuries in Devon and Cornwall last year compare to three deaths and 665 major injuries in 2010/11. Another 2,202 workers in the region suffered injuries which required at least three days off work in 2011/12, compared to 2,366 in 2010/11.

"The latest provisional figures show that nationwide, on average, six in every million workers were killed while at work between April 2011 and March 2012."

It's now more than 18 months since a huge gas explosion at Falmouth failed to kill or injure anyone, and so that particular incident doesn't figure in the latest statistics.  I've been curious to know what caused it and so have been pestering the H&SE for more information:   "The joint investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service into the fire at Falmouth Docks in June 2011 has now been concluded. Following extensive examinations of equipment from the site, no specific causation of the fire could be identified. .

"HSE has issued two Improvement Notices relating to working practices at the site which have been complied with by A&P Falmouth Ltd.

" Working practices at the site have changed and the use and quantity of acetylene kept on site since the incident has been significantly reduced. HSE will not be taking any further enforcement action and the investigation is now closed."

So no-one prosecuted and the investigation called off without an understanding of what made the gas cylinder explode. If I worked in the docks I'd be worried.  These are the “improvement notices” – they go no further than calling for risk assessments:

Monday, 24 December 2012

When the wind blows

Nearly a year after Cornwall Council announced it was taking legal action against a farmer who ignored the planners and built a wind turbine near Bodmin without permission, the Planning Inspectorate has intervened to save the lawyers any further trouble.  Permission granted.

Duck and Cover

I can't imagine how awful Christmas will be for those Sandy Hook school parents whose children won't be unwrapping their presents tomorrow.  And I find it equally difficult to understand a society which tolerates an open trade in automatic weapons.  The notorious United States second ammendment was written at a time when muskets took three minutes to reload between single rounds.  Shares in body armour companies are now soaring.  So is the trade in weapons.  America has gone nuts and if there isn't the political will to fix this issue during 2013, there never will be.

Can't win 'em all

The devil is always in the detail, but this snippet from the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust board suggests things are looking up:
"*  The Trust received a total of 358 complaints for the year 2011-2012. This is compared to 303 complaints for the year 2010-2011, constituting an 18% increase.
*  The Trust received a total of 5530 compliments for the year 2011-2012. This is compared to 4033 for the previous year 2010-2011, constituting a 37% increase."

How to save £100,000

Combine the chief executive posts at both Cornwall and Isles of Scilly councils.  And make sure the new job carries a top salary of not more than £200,000.  You know it makes sense.

Friday, 21 December 2012

First as tragedy, then as farce

I do hope that urgent leak inquiries are underway at both County Hall in Truro, and at Wellington, New Zealand, to find out how the news escaped that Cornwall Council's chief executive Kevin Lavery has not only applied for a job in the antipodes but has been offered one.  Kevin says he's thinking about it.  Hmmm. 

Unless we know all the facts, cynics might think the publicity was all just a cheap negotiating tactic.  According to the New Zealand press, Kevin's been offered NZ$420,000 (about £213,000).  Wellington thinks it's a done-deal, albeit a controversial one, with some locals describing Kevin as a "slash-and-burn" CEO.

The truth is, four years is a relatively long time for Kevin to stay in one place.

Rewind 11 years.  Kevin had just announced he was quitting as chief executive of Newcastle City Council.  His departure followed months of political wrangling over whether or not to privatise (sorry, "enter into a strategic partnership") with BT.

The shockwaves from Kevin's 2001 departure have passed into local government folklore, and are now the stuff of academic study.  After Newcastle, he squeezed in a couple of other jobs before going to work for, er, BT, in 2005.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Did I imagine it?

I'm sure I saw a Tweet recently that congratulated Cornwall councillors Steve Double and Scott Mann on their elevation to the lofty status of prospective Parliamentary candidates.  But on checking the author's list of Tweets, the message seems to have been deleted.  I've asked Cornwall Conservative Party organiser Bob Davidson for clarification.
STOP PRESS: My thanks to Bob, Steve and Scott for all clarifying with admirable speed.  Steve and Scott have indeed been accepted onto the list of possible PPCs, but won't face any constituency-specific selection meetings until next month.  Tories in St Austell and Newquay, and North Cornwall, are getting very excited.  And I guess this is clear evidence that the next general election will indeed be fought on existing boundaries, rather than any Devonwall-malarky.

Plenty more where that came from

One of my favourites at this time of year is the Ministry of Defence annual report, particularly the section on losses and liabilities, pages 157-162.
The £1.3 billion cost of withdrawing the Harrier fleet we already knew about, but £13.8m on 153 "smaller" gifts, £23.6m on a waste treatment plant that didn't work, £10.5m on overpayment of war pensions, £1.5m on damaging helicopter engines due to faulty packing, £2.8m on body armour that "failed to meet required safety standards" and nearly £1m on disposing of missiles "damaged in a road traffic accident" suggests there might be more scope for saving the public purse.

Tory ladies at odds over gay marriage

It looks as if the only MP from Devon and Cornwall who is openly campaigning against the government's plans for gay marriages is Newton Abbot's Conservative Anne-Marie Morris.  At least, she's the only one to sign this letter to the Daily Telegraph.  Should make for an interesting relationship with her neighbouring Tory, Totnes MP Sarah Woolaston.

Retiring democracy

Some local councillors work harder than others.  Some are good value, some are not.  But this latest government wheeze seems designed to turn the clock back to the days when rural squirearchies controlled everything, and only those with time and money could take seats in council chambers.  Will government ministers and Members of Parliament also be asked to surrender their pensions?

A very British coup?

Last night's Channel 4 News was just a treat.  Did the Met conspire to fit up the government chief whip?  It certainly looks like it.  And as we await today's verdict on Saville-gate, Newsnight-gate etc, perhaps the Beeb should order another inquiry into itself to find out why it ever allowed the brilliant Michael Crick to leave.  Last night's Channel 4 News was also a reminder as to how the post-Hutton BBC is no place for investigative journalism.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Councils in a right old pickle

12 noon tomorrow - local councils hope to learn how much cash they'll get from central government to continue providing/privatising services.  My estimate is that across Devon and Cornwall, town halls will take a hit of nearly £50m.  The next budget round will be a belter.

Something wicked this way comes

Those pesky midges keep biting - and now our cows are getting sick.  The increase in Schmallenberg virus in Devon and Cornwall herds looks worrying.  And expensive.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Not the first time, not the last

It's not often that I find myself on the same side of an argument as Piers Morgan, but he's spot on about the need for a Dunblane-style US government response to the Sandy Hill school massacre. And just in case we Europeans feel slightly too smug about our intellectual superiority on the gun-law issue, here's one I wrote earlier, with a link to the official Devon and Cornwall police stats.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Were you abused in council care?

I'm working on a story about looked-after children who were abused or neglected while in foster care or a council residential home. If you were one of those children, and would be happy to talk to me about it, please get in touch.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Good to be back

Six months on, I return to the blogosphere. If you're a new reader, welcome. If you followed "Graham Smith's Cornwall" on its BBC platform, you might be pleased to know that The Ragged Trouser Press not only contains most of that content, it also has several posts which for some reason Beeb bosses deemed unsuitable for "Graham Smith's Cornwall" together with material which pre-dates my time with the BBC. In particular there are some archive videos I made during my time at ITV (I look so young!) posted to this blog in 2009, which unfortunately probably wouldn't get made today. Anyway I'm now free to write what I like. Whether my creditors like it is another matter. Gandhi once said that freedom and slavery were mental states. That's what I'll tell the bank manager.

Gun for hire

Self-shooting, editing, video producer and journalist, offering media training and corporate to the highest broadcast standards. Look at the photo. Once upon a time the chap on the right was a humble Opposition leader (OK maybe not that humble…) Twenty years ago I used to joke that if I had a proper job I wouldn't know what to do with it. My imminent departure from the ranks of BBC staffers, and return to the rough and tumble of the freelance world, is probably evidence of a mid-life crisis. All I can say is - my rates are very reasonable. Get in touch if you'd like to know more.

What would Yoda do?

Nearly one in ten - 9.9% - of people in Cornwall described their national identity as Cornish, rather than British, according to census data published this week. That's 52,793 people out of a total population of 532,273. This compares with 34,000 Cornish in the 2001 census, an increase of nearly 19,000 in ten years. When it comes to religion, nationally, 176,632 continued to describe themselves as Jedi. So there are still more Jedi than Cornish, although Cornish is on the up, while the number of Jedi has seen a steep decline on the 2001 data. Both "Cornish" and "Jedi" required write-in answers, rather than the easier tick-box. I'll ask Cornwall councillor Chris Pascoe if he still bats for both.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Glittering prizes

Congratulations to BBC Radio Cornwall's Laurence Reed, who picked up his third consecutive gong for best regional news and current affairs radio programme at the EDF Media Awards in Bath yesterday. Yours truly was EDF's regional radio journalist of the year, which meant that Laurence and I were able to compare paperweights on the way home. A splendid time was had by all, particularly me, as seated at my table was an EDF chap who told me all kinds of interesting things about the proposed new Hinkley Point nuclear power station. My thanks to EDF and Hold The Front Page for hosting this event.

Cops and robbers

Thanks again to the FoI team: there's some amusing sport to be had from this list of items stolen from Devon and Cornwall police stations. Eleven thefts a year - that's nearly one a month. How did a burglar manage to steal a mattress? And what rotter has been going round nicking aftershave and the (presumably) WPCs' perfume and eye-liner?

In addition to the list of stuff stolen from police stations, there's a longer list recording the items where police have been the victims of crime while out on the street. Lots of jewellery, fishing rods and a six-pack of cider were among the swag which caught my eye. Of the 76 crimes recorded here, only seven resulted in prosecutions.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Time up for dinner time?

We're half a year on from when we reported that two Devon primary schools were scrapping hot school meals because they said they could not afford to buy them any more.

It now transpires that more than 60 of Devon's schools have quit the newly privatised service. More than a dozen now provide no hot meals at all, except where there is a statutory obligation to help children from families on benefit.

Information Request 02597
Please could you tell me how many county schools have opted out of the school meals service since September 2011 when the county council outsourced the meals to Devon Norse?
Devon County Council's response
Between September 2011 and April 2012, 64 schools decided not to receive their school meals service from Devon Norse.

And from the Devon Norse website:

In these times of economic pressure, Norse's pioneering approach to helping local authorities maintain high standards of service delivery will save Devon County Council money, protect local jobs and contribute to the local economy.

Looking for new, cost-efficient ways of working, Devon County Council was attracted to Norse's combination of public sector experience and commercial flair. The council believes these skills will develop the Joint Venture's business to everyone's benefit.

Devon Norse has responsibility for delivering cleaning services to schools and various NHS sites and civic buildings, along with catering at many of the county's schools and for civic functions.

Devon County Council said none of this was anything of their business - schools manage their own budgets, and questions about meals should be addressed to the service provider.

Anyone for politics? All I need now is a quote from Jamie Oliver and the job's done...

You wait for months and then you get two...

The entertainment potential provided by Devon and Cornwall Liberal Democrats over November's Police Commissioner election seems to know no limit.

In February it was all perfectly clear. After months of internal wrangling, the Lib Dems decided, finally, not to field a candidate.

And then they changed their minds. So the official position, as I write this, is that the Devon and Cornwall Lib Dems are now seeking a candidate.

Step forward North Devon's Brian Greenslade, a former chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Police Authority and a Liberal Democrat member of Devon county council. Except that Brian, who would very much like to be the Police Commissioner and who is a Liberal Democrat to his finger-tips, does not want to stand as a Liberal Democrat candidate.

This raises the highly amusing prospect of the Liberal Democrats having two candidates in the race - one of them official, one of them an independent.

Party officials are now frantically thumbing through their rule books to find out what the consequences of this might be: most seem to think that Brian could not stand against an official candidate and remain a member of the party.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

How to start a war

My thanks to Torbay MP Adrian Sanders for this analysis of the government's spectacular retreat on the pasty tax. Here's part of his interview with Matt Woodley from today's Good Morning Devon. The really controversial bit is at about 2:30 - on the origins of the pasty.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Lib Dems decide, finally, to contest Police Commissioner election

The weekend's gathering of the Devon & Cornwall Liberal Democrat regional executive endorsed a recommendation that the party should, after all, field a candidate in November.

The decision ends months of dithering and internal constitutional arm wrestling - and will put further distance between local activists and the Lib Dem High Command in London. Party leaders have said they are opposed to participation in the Police Commissioner elections.

But the soap opera isn't over yet. Now the Lib Dems must start the business of selecting a candidate. The Conservative and Labour Parties say they hope to announce their nominees within the next three or four weeks.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Mad dogs and Englishmen

Today's news about rabies made me wonder what happened in days gone by. I found this entry in Hansard for 24th October 1918:
asked the President of the Local Government Board if, in view of the danger arising from the existence of rabies in the country, he will issue information to the public as to what facilities there are for obtaining Pasteur treatment and as to the steps that should be taken by individuals who may be bitten by suspected dogs?

A circular on the procedure to be adopted was sent to medical officers of health in Devonshire and Cornwall as soon as the Local Government Board were informed of the presence of rabies among dogs in these counties. It has now been revised, and a copy of the revised circular will be sent to the Press.

If you can think of more recent cases of rabies in Devon or Cornwall please let me know.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

How Devon was saved from Cornish flag outrage (or not)

I'm really not sure what to make of this - an outrageous attack on Cornish self-identity, or much ado about nothing? The controversial bit is at about 3:12. I do wonder if this isn't a case of you-couldn't-make-it-up life imitating art.

North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson is clearly of the former opinion. He emails to say:
"When the last runner with the Olympic flame left Cornwall and set off across the Tamar Bridge, he held in his hands a Cornish flag that was sadly confiscated by the police who were running alongside. Despite a helpful policeman initially carrying the flag with Mr Ball, his colleague clearly received instructions to remove it.

"This incident has understandably sparked anger across the Duchy. To many in Cornwall, this sends out a signal that English, Welsh or Scottish identity is fine, but that Cornish identity is not to be accepted by the London-based Olympic authorities.

"I have written today to Seb Coe, the Chairman of the LOCOG (the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) about the incident. As a former Cornish MP I am sure he will agree with me that Andrew Ball and the people of Cornwall quite rightly deserve an apology."

Were the Metropolitan Police security team really thinking about politics as they approached the Tamar Bridge last weekend? And I'll do my best to post Lord Coe's reply to Dan.

Accidents will happen

The trouble with stories based on reams of data is that they are like looking for a needle in a haystack, with no clear idea of what the needle looks like or the shape of the haystack.

So when the Ministry of Defence press office helpfully drew my attention to the Site Event Report Committee's annual publication scheme, my heart leapt - and then sank just as quickly.

These documents detail hundreds of nuclear incidents and accidents at Devonport dockyard over the years - some years running at the rate of one a week. My heart leaps - what a story! But then my heart sinks. What's the context?

Is the detail contained in the annexes to these reports good news or bad? It's obviously good that the MoD choses to tell us about it. And in an environment which must involve several hundred opportunities for something to go wrong every day, it's probably good that, on average, only one thing goes wrong per week. And it's a matter for considerable relief that the vast majority of mishaps are relatively trivial.

But the quest for context poses yet more questions. How much of this is old news? For example, on 8th November 2008 this happened:
"Whilst conducting a primary plant discharge, the hose between the submarine and the PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) on the jetty split discharging liquid from the submarine to the environment. One member of Ship's Company came into contact with the spray from the hose."
This sounds serious, and it was. A "Category B" accident, forcing managers and MoD civil servants to do the unthinkable - tell the minister. Yet I've been doing stories about Devonport for 30 years and I don't remember that one, nor can I find any mention of it in any local media archives, so maybe the minister kept it to himself, at least for a while.

And the SERC documents don't appear to mention some other accidents which we know happened, such as the 30th April 1992 "large fire" on board HMS Turbulent. I definitely remember that one because I was in a local television newsroom which just happened to have a camera crew in the dockyard when it happened. Subsequently an old fashioned Parliamentary Question solicited the somewhat disconcerting information that, on average, there's a fire on a nuclear submarine about once a month.

So what does this leave us with? Stacks of data detailing hundreds of mostly trivial "incidents" which the rules say must be reported. Look hard enough and we find a handful of serious mishaps capable of causing real concern. I quite like data-driven stories. But I prefer original eye-witness testimonies. If you have any, drop me a line.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Can Devon learn from Cornwall?

The Mayor of Torbay tells me the time has come to consider abolishing every council in Devon, including his own. Gordon Oliver thinks a super-unitary council, covering the whole of Devon, could save millions of pounds. His critics wonder if the dustbins would ever get can hear all about it on Good Morning Devon, with Matt Woodley on Wednesday morning.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Hello Goodbye

Cornwall councillor Chris Pascoe texts to say he's quitting the Lib Dem group and joining the Independents. Next year's elections are suddenly in focus.

Crime and punishment (2)

My thanks to the FoI team at Devon and Cornwall police for crunching yet more numbers for me in relation to juvenile arrests and subsequent criminal proceedings. This follows my earlier inquiries about DNA and fingerprint records. The team has now refined its answer to exclude those arrested, but not taken to a police station. Over the past three years, 12,257 under-18s were arrested and "processed" at a police station. Only 4,970 (40%) were charged with any offence. This means that of the 14,300 juvenile arrests during this period, about 2,000 (presumably the younger ones) never made it to the police station and have therefore not (yet) started a DNA/fingerprint record.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Yet more glittering prizes

It's not just local councils which like to let their hair down at awards ceremonies. Congratulations to BBC Radio Cornwall's Laurence Reed, on yet again being shortlisted at the EDF SW Media Awards for his lunchtime phone-in. Laurence has won this award so many times that they really ought to create a separate "not-counting-Laurence" category for everyone else. Modesty prevents me drawing too much attention to the shortlist for radio journalist of the year.

It's all about timing

Last week Cornwall councillors voted 10-9 in favour of a 15,000-home estate at Threemilestone, near Truro. Had they not done so, they would have killed immediately any chance of a sports stadium on an adjacent site. This morning councillors voted 55-46 against putting taxpayers' money into the stadium project, which has planning permission but practically no funding. Any thoughts about what would have happened to the housing application if it had been considered after today's decision?

Monday, 14 May 2012

Pop pop pop

I suppose it's some comfort that the law sets the age of criminal responsibility at 10. Otherwise some of the shotgun licences issued to primary school children in Cornwall over the past three years could be in very dangerous hands. There were two shotgun licences issued to 10-year-olds in Cornwall last year; two to 11-year-olds, three to 12-year-olds and five to 13-year-olds. Firearms licences were issued to four 14-year-olds.

Who pays, wins

The annual reports and financial accounts of Devon's main National Health Service hospitals tell me they earned more than £5.5 million last year from treating private patients.

Here are the details of private patient income:

Derriford £3.434 m
Royal Devon & Exeter £1.142 m
Torbay £466,000
North Devon £463,000

So keen is Derriford to pitch for this kind of business that its tariff is on-line. The £466/night Meavy Clinic in particular looks like the ideal place for those untroubled by the politics of envy:
"Rooms are cleaned daily, with fresh towels and toiletries provided for your convenience. You will be able to select each meal from a varied menu during your stay with us. Our dedicated chef oversees the menu planning to make sure that we offer a healthy and appetising choice to suit most tastes."

I'm trying to get the data I need to make comparisons. On the face of it, Cornwall is cheaper.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Arrested for rape, aged 12

Note to self: must call the cops tomorrow to find out more about this answer posted on their FoI disclosure log. The youngest person arrested for rape in Devon and Cornwall last year was only 12. I wonder how the case ended. Similarly, the oldest person arrested for rape was 81. Youngest person arrested for any offence was a 10-year-old accused of assault causing actual bodily harm.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Top cop job - the field narrows

Some Liberal Democrats from Devon and Cornwall meet in Plymouth tomorrow to decide whether or not to face the electorate in the contest for a Police Commissioner. If they decide in favour of fielding a candidate, then they also face the wrath of some of their own party leaders who've made it clear that in their opinion, the Lib Dems ought to sit this one out.

The Conservatives have a shortlist of six, including Torbay councillor Alison Hernandez and Cornwall councillor Lance Kennedy, who will jump through the hoop of "open hustings" events in the last week of June.

Labour will select either Ccouncillor Nicky Williams, from Plymouth Sutton and Devonport Labour Party, or Patrick Canavan, from Torbay Labour Party, through a one-member-one-vote system next month.

Other parties, including the Greens and UKIP, have said they will not be fielding candidates.

Friday, 4 May 2012

After the Lord Mayor's Show

Last night's elections look like they will certainly dent the crusade for directly elected mayors, with some fairly dramatic rejections of the idea in some of Britain's biggest cities.

The only directly elected mayor in our patch, of course, is Torbay's Gordon Oliver. Torbay voted in 2005 to create this powerful political post - arguably far more powerful than simply being a Member of Parliament.

As we ponder the pros and cons of whether directly elected mayors represent an advance in democracy for local government, it's worth remembering that only 55% of those who voted were in favour of the idea in Torbay. And those who voted accounted for only 32.1% of the electorate. And last year Gordon got the job with just 25.7% of the vote.

Who said that?

Congratulations, councillor Tudor Evans. I've been trying to find out who first coined the phrase, "The greatest comeback since Lazarus." It wasn't Tudor, the new (well, reborn, again) leader of Plymouth city council. But it should have been. I remember him winning his seat on the council for the first time, a quarter of a century ago. They do say that everything comes to he who waits.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Jumpers for goalposts (2)

My thanks to Jason Clark for tweeting the result of Cornwall planners' deliberations overInox's 1,500-home development at Threemilestone (10-9 for approval.) So there'll be a big housing estate, for sure. But will the "extras" include a sports stadium?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

From the disclosure logs

This might be the start of an occasional series of snippets from Freedom of Information logs. None of the questions are mine.

Information Request
Please provide me with sick leave details ref your FOI officers whom have been on sick leave as a direct cause of my FOI requests since June 05 to now.

Devon County Council's response
Devon County Council records staff sickness by type. It does not record additional information regarding the cause of the sickness. Therefore the Council does not hold the information you have requested.

Ship, sinking, joining (but not in that order)

I shall wait until after polling day on Thursday before letting this post see the light of day. And I can only marvel at this chap's timing. I gather that new Lib Dem recruit 21-year-old Tristan was a member of Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw's campaign team at the last election and is a former chair of Exeter Labour Students.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Not gone yet

The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency updates on Schmallenberg: since last month, two cattle farms in Devon and one in Cornwall have joined the list; the number of sheep farms affected is now seven in Devon (up one) and two in Cornwall (also up one.)
AHVLA says:
"The decline in the numbers of reporting farms is in line with all EU Member States, where the sheep reports have declined as lambing in 'at risk' sheep (those at a critical time of gestation when infection can impact on the foetus) draws to an end. This is also in line with Defra's own predictions considering UK farming practices and estimated time of infection occurring in the UK. We continue to expect to see cases in cattle into early summer."

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Crime and punishment

I'm hoping to get a story on Good Morning Devon shortly about police collecting DNA samples from children. I think you'll be able to hear it if you listen to Matt Woodley on BBC Radio Devon from 6am on Thursday.

What I've found out so far is that in Devon and Cornwall, you're more likely to have your DNA sample taken by the police than you are to be a victim of crime (69/1,000 compared with 62/1,000) and that in a three year period, Devon and Cornwall police arrested more than 14,300 juveniles. More than 20 of those arrests involved children as young as 10.

Because the vast majority of those juveniles are never charged with an offence - but dealt with by way of caution or reprimand - they are, in the eyes of the law, innocent. Yet their DNA sample will stay on an Interpol database until those children have reached the age of 100.

I hadn't appreciated until now that local police forces are free to interpret their own policies on DNA. This could become even more interesting when we get to the Police Commissioner elections in November.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Starting to get bored now...

Last word (for now) on the pasty tax to Nick Clegg, who offered this view of his party's supporters in Cornwall while appearing on BBC TV this weekend.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

So who voted in favour of the pasty tax?

Looking forward to studying Hansard in the morning to find out which MPs voted for what in the great pasty tax debate this evening. I know that all six of Cornwall's MPs, and Torbay's Adrian Sanders, voted against the tax. I think one of Devon's Conservative MPs also voted against, as did Labour. The coalition government nevertheless pushed it through with a majority of 35. I'll report the official voting record when I have it.

UPDATE: Here it is: the overnight Hansard details, blow by blow, the battle to scrap the pasty tax. In addition to all six Cornish MPs, four Devon MPs - Gary Streeter (Cons), Adrian Sanders (Lib Dem), Alison Seabeck (Lab) and Ben Bradshaw (Lab) voted against the coalition government. Six of Devon's Tory MPs voted in favour of the pasty tax: Sarah Woolaston, Hugo Swire, Mel Stride, Neil Parish, Oliver Colville and Anne Marie Morris. I can find no record of Nick Harvey (Lib Dem) or Geoffrey Cox (Con) so assume they were absent.

Numbers that violate reason

Since 2005, according to Devon and Cornwall police:

  • There were a total of 3,237 crimes of rape recorded. Figure based on entered date.

  • There were a total of 2,273 arrests for offences of rape recorded. Figure based on arrest date.

  • There were a total of 309 arrests where a charge was recorded for offences of rape recorded. Figure based on arrest date.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Time on their hands

Someone at Torbay Council might know more about this, but thanks to a FoI answer we all now know that the number of calls made from inside the Town Hall to the speaking clock between October 2010 and March 2011 was 66, at a cost of £5.87. That's roughly one call every three days. Pip! Pip! Pip!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

How to dodge the pasty tax

Who needs expensive accountants to advise on all those useful tax avoidance schemes? Torbay MP Adrian Sanders thinks he has the answer.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Choppers for hire

Also on the Department for Transport website is the short list of bidders for search and rescue helicopter services, coming soon to helipads at Culdrose, Chivenor and Portland. Among the names I recognise are Bond (police, air ambulances), Babcock (Devonport dockyard) and British International Helicopters (Isles of Scilly.) Once upon a time I would have expected the Yeovil-based company Westlands to be keen on this; but there's no mention of AgustaWestland on the DfT list. Winners due to be announced early next year.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

On the right track?

From the Department for Transport website:

The firms bidding to take over the franchises have been chosen following a pre-qualification process.

Bidders for Great Western franchise:
•First Great Western Trains Limited (FirstGroup plc)
•GW Trains Limited (Arriva UK Trains Limited - DB (UK) Investments Limited)
•NXGW Trains Limited (National Express Group PLC)
•Stagecoach Great Western Trains Limited (Stagecoach Group plc)
These potential providers will receive the Invitation to Tender which is anticipated will be issued in May 2012. It is anticipated that the successful bidder will be announced in December 2012, with the contract commencing in April 2013. The length of the franchise term will be 15 years.

It'll be fascinating to see what impact, if any, the lobbying of councils in Cornwall and Devon, the Members of Parliament and various business interests have on the final product.

Monday, 9 April 2012

You've got to be in it to win it

Congratulations to Cornwall and Plymouth councils for making it to the finals of this year's Municipal Journals Awards, one of the most glitzy of the local government love-ins, to be hosted at the Park Lane Hilton in June. It's the sort of event that has The Taxpayers' Alliance in a rage. The definition of some of the categories (Workforce Transformation, Redefining Quality etc) can be open to interpretation. And the political risks associated with spending too much on black ties, posh frocks and champagne are obvious. Perhaps instead of sending executive suits, the councils might elect to be represented this year by those who toil at the sharp end, in the less glamorous world of emptying bins and pest control?

Sunday, 8 April 2012

UKIP candidates outnumber Lib Dems in Plymouth elections

Candidates are one thing; elected councillors quite another. But it's interesting that the Statement of Persons Nominated for the Plymouth City Council elections, due to be published on Tuesday, shows the UK Independence Party fielding a full slate. Nine of the 19 contested Plymouth wards have no Lib Dem entry. The Conservative and Labour parties also have candidates in every ward, the Greens are represented in five, Trade Unionists & Socialists Against Cuts and Vivamus one each.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Who signed the anti-snoop letter?

Today's Independent newspaper has this letter from 17 Lib Dem MPs, expressing their concern about coalition plans to let the security services intercept the internet and phone data of private citizens. Of Devon and Cornwall's five Liberal Democrat MPs, three signed and two did not.

Lib Dems at war over Police Commissioner election

Just over a week ago Devon and Cornwall's Liberal Democrats set a date (12th May) and venue (Legacy Hotel, Plymouth) for a special conference to decide whether or not to field a candidate in November's Police Commisser election. Now party bigwigs in London are doing their best to make sure such a conference never happens, leaving some local activists complaining of a "stitch-up."

Kay Friend, the chairman of the Devon & Cornwall Lib Dems, has asked the regional conference arrangements committee to cancel the gig planned for 12th May, unless individual local parties wish to take over responsibility for it. She says the special conference, which would cost about £200, is neither appropriate nor necessary, quoting advice from David Allworthy, the Head of Compliance and Constitutional Support at Lib Dem HQ in London.

His advice says:
"Police Commissioner Elections are defined as Local Authority elections in law. Therefore a Local Party or combination of Local Parties as envisaged in clause 9.6 are responsible for approval, selection, campaigning and publicity. You cannot be responsible for selection campaigning and publicity without being responsible for the costs. Therefore any group of Local Parties responsible for fielding a candidate in the Police Commissioner Elections are also responsible through the joint arrangements for deciding how much each Local party should pay towards the costs which would include both hustings costs and the deposit."

I'm no lawyer, and even less of an expert on the Lib Dems' constitution, but I do wonder why this advice wasn't available before the regional executive meeting on 27th February decided not to field a candidate. If that meeting had never happened, it wouldn't have been necessary to call a special conference to reverse the decision. It now puts the regional conference arrangements committee in a very interesting position. I hope to speak to some of the local Lib Dem MPs about this later today.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Life imitates art

If you can't wait for the Olympic torch to race past your home next month, as it hurtles through Cornwall and Devon, do catch Twenty Twelve on BBC2 and iPlayer. Most Laughs Out Loud for a long time.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

A long time in politics

A week which started badly for the Conservatives, and which then got worse, and which then saw all three of the main political parties humiliated in Bradford West, ends with that megaphone for revolutionary socialism The Daily Mail offering us this thought:
"...the humble Cornish pasty has become a powerful symbol of class struggle. Absurdly, Mr Cameron felt obliged to respond by proclaiming his affection for pasties. Sadly for his credibility, the shop where he claimed he had bought a pasty most recently closed five years ago."
Without wishing any harm to any West Country Member of Parliament, a by-election right here, right now, would be huge fun.

Friday, 30 March 2012

When George Galloway spoke for Devon

Congratulations to the new Member of Parliament for Bradford West, whose by-election victory last night reminded me of my attempts to find out more about the very strange death of an East Devon helicopter pilot in Latin America more than 20 years ago. Only one MP took much interest, raising the issue in Parliament and taking the time and trouble to make inquiries at the Foreign Office and do media interviews. George might not be universally popular at Westminster or Whitehall. But as the voters of West Bradford have declared, this might not be a bad thing.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

A fair cop

The Devon & Cornwall Police Freedom of Information disclosure log is a mine of fascinating data. This answer, posted a few weeks ago, provides details of police officers and civilian staff who have been disciplined for inappropriate use of computers - from shopping and social networking to gambling and porn - and even details of the top 50 sites. I'm pleased to report that is among them.

Don't mention the stadium

I see that the agenda for next week's meeting of Cornwall's Environment & Economy Overview & Scrutiny committee has nothing to report about the proposed stadium, which regular readers might think is a bit surprising given that until recently the 4th Floor had been keen to implement its policy by the end of this month. But property developers Inox haven't disappeared from the scene completely. The following day, Strategic Planning considers the Inox application for 1,500 homes on the adjacent site.

Cornwall waste incinerator back on

From the Press Association: The Government won a Court of Appeal challenge today against a ruling which quashed its decision to grant planning permission for a £117 million waste incinerator project in Cornwall.

Onward Christian soldiers

A couple of stories in recent days could test the theories about mixing religion and politics:

No-one who knows South West Devon MP Gary Streeter would doubt the sincerity of his religious convictions or question why he chairs the all-party group Christians in Parliament. So his intervention in the dispute over who should get the credit for saving the life (or should that be restoring the life?) of footballer Fabrice Muamba is very interesting, particularly given that Gary quotes his own 1983 "miracle cure" for a sore hand.

The second story concerns Cornwall Council's decision on Tuesday to restore an act of Christian worship to the agenda of its meetings, on the grounds that a Secretary of State carries more clout than a High Court judge. Secularists are not happy about this and are considering the legal position. As one councillor put it: "God has many mansions. But Cornwall Council chamber is not one of them."

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Lib Dems prepare to do battle (with themselves) over Police Commissioner contest

Devon and Cornwall's Liberal Democrats are to meet in Plymouth on Saturday 12th May to decide whether or not to field a candidate for November's Police Commissioner election. The special conference has the power to overturn the ruling of the regional executive. As far as I'm aware, this is the only region (so far) to challenge the national party policy on this issue.

Information Commission backs council on tax disclosure

The Information Commission has just emailed me its ruling about whether Cornwall Council was right to keep secret the identities of those councillors who had to be taken to court for non-payment of council tax. The Commission rules in favour of the council, and against me.
The full ruling is here: FS50410847.pdf

Of particular interest, in my humble opinion, is the decision in relation to where information was held in magistrates' court records:
"...Access to court records is made via application to the court and is at the discretion of the judge who will consider whether disclosure is necessary to ensure that justice is seen to be done. The factors that a public authority must consider when deciding whether disclosure under the FOIA would breach the first data protection principle are different....
"It was recognised that data is disclosed in court and could be reported....... However, it concluded that later disclosure would be unfair practice public knowledge of the issues is only short lived and may be limited to only a small number of people. Even where cases are reported in newspapers this does not lead to the establishment of a comprehensive, searchable database of offenders."

I need to speak to my BBC bosses about whether to pursue an appeal - but my immediate reaction is that 21st century technology has already moved us well beyond a situation where cases are merely reported in newspapers. The "establishment of a comprehensive, searchable database" is only a few search engines away.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Famous for 15 minutes

Hard not to feel sorry for Schmallenberg, the town in Germany now better known for giving its name to a virus which causes foetal abnormalities in sheep, cattle and goats. It seems to have dropped out of the headlines in recent weeks, but thanks to the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency I can today report that the current "score" attributed to this midge-carried virus is Cornwall 1, Devon 6, Somerset 3 and Dorset 4. That's a total of 14 farms across the West Country. I don't known how many lambs and would be interested to know if any government agency is keeping count.

Absence of evidence and evidence of absence

From the Devon and Cornwall police Freedom of Information disclosure log:

The Equality & Diversity and Professional Standards Departments have provided the
following information:

Do the Police maintain a workforce profile and, if so:
a) is Cornish a category of self-identification within this workforce profile
b) what are the returns.

Devon and Cornwall Police publish the results of its annual staff census, see link below:

Cornish is not used as a category of self identification.

In recording the backgrounds of wrongdoers do the Police gather ethnic identifications for Cornish, in order to understand, as they try to do with other groups, if there are general circumstances or attitudes that translate into certain behaviours.

Details of Devon and Cornwall Police's ethnic monitoring procedures are published on the website (see link below). Cornish is not option within either the Self Defined Ethnicity Codings or the Descriptive Ethnicity Codes


Lastly, what cases of prejudice towards Cornish people, either internally or in handling incidents, have come to light in the past 5 years, and what has been done about them?

The Professional Standards Department have checked the Complaint and Conduct cases in relation to Discrimination by Race or Other, since 01/01/2007 and have found no allegations that specifically mention discrimination against Cornish people.

Neighbourhood watch

From the official Devon and Cornwall police helicopter blog:
"At approximately 6:20pm local officers in Sidmouth were called to deal with four suspicious people on The Byes Path. The individuals were suspected of committing various offences and made off from officers on foot. The helicopter attended and located one male hiding in bushes near to, but out of sight of, officers on the ground. This man, along with three others, were arrested for various offences."
Roughly translated into a headline for the Daily Mail:
"Police helicopter scrambled to catch foursome spotted engaging in sexual activity at seaside beauty spot (at least one was wearing handcuffs already.)"
The Devon and Cornwall police helicopter costs £1.6m/year.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Can't buy me love

Congratulations to the Sunday Times for today's scoop about cash-for-access and the chance to lobby the Prime Minister. What makes the story outstanding is the secret footage of (now resigned) Conservative Party co-treasurer Peter Cruddas talking about what you get for your money.

But the basic menu-with-prices is, and has been for years, on the Conservative Party website: Party Patrons, from £50/month, The Front Bench Club (£5,000/year) and so on, all the way through to the Leader's Group (£50,000/year.)

I have to say I don't see anything really new in any of this, except the breathtaking audacity of the fundraising. I remember attending a Labour Party conference once where the soon-to-collapse US energy company Enron was sponsoring a function. Enron was later allowed to take over Wessex Water, without reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. There was the inevitable five-minute-scandal, with the Conservatives demanding an inquiry.

The rest is history - and history repeats itself, over and over. Sometimes, with party political funding stories, I struggle to distinguish between farce and tragedy. Only last year the Committee for Standards in Public Life said political parties should get an extra £23m of taxpayers' money to reduce reliance on "big money" donations. It also recommended a £10,000 annual cap on individual donations from 2015. At present there are no limits on donations, but the name of anyone who gives more than £7,500 to a party is made public.

The future is unwritten

One of the joys of being a re-located reporter is getting to know the new patch. And one of the first things I've learned about the Torbay area of South Devon is that it is the place to be for all things concerning Agathie Christie.

The doyenne of crime writers and murder mysteries is celebrated everywhere. There's an Agatha walk which includes an exhibition at the Torquay museum; the Agatha Christie bronze bust in Cary Gardens near the harbour; Princess Gardens; the 12th century Torre Abbey opposite Torquay's main beach; and, finally, the Grand Hotel, where the crimewriter spent her honeymoon.

Devon boasts a large number of authors whose works graced my bookshelves when I was a child: Henry Williamson (Tarka the Otter), RD Blackmore (Lorna Doone) and (temporarily) Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Sherlock Holmes adventure involving The Hound of the Baskervilles involved research at Princetown on Dartmoor.

Perhaps when I was young I simply read the wrong books, but I'm struggling to think of ways in which Cornwall promotes a similarly rich literary heritage: there's Daphne du Maurier, of course, and the festival now held in her name has become an annual cultural highlight. Winston Graham (Poldark.) And David Cornwell (John le Carre, chronicler of Cold War espionage) surely deserves his place on any bookshelf.

I was disappointed, on a recent trip to the Tinner's Arms at Zennor, to discover that no-one there could tell me anything about D.H. Lawrence's stay there during the first world war. Lawrence lived at the pub, working on Women In Love, before later renting a local cottage. Locals thought that Lawrence and his German wife, Frieda, were spies and police advised them to leave Cornwall.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Chiefs and indians

I've compiled this league table to demonstrate the cost-per-head of our council chief executives.

Council_______Chief executive salary________Population___________Cost-per-head

Torbay................... £151,316................................134,300............................£1.13
Devon County..........£157,000................................749,900................................21p

Of course Devon County's council taxpayers also pay for senior officers at their district councils. Some of these share chief executives so direct comparisons are not possible. Mid Devon council does not share and the additional chief executive there costs an extra £95,000-£100,000. With a district population of only 76,100, this brings the total cost-per-head for residents in that part of Devon to about £1.52. Are council services in Mid Devon really four times better than those in Cornwall? As I have blogged previously, the heaviest cost-per-head burden is that carried on the Isles of Scilly.

Friday, 23 March 2012

A union made in heaven

Click on the website of Conservative Home and you get this advert, from the Coalition for Marriage, whose mission is to torpedo government proposals to allow gay weddings. Red Badge of Courage, therefore, to Totnes Tory MP Sarah Woolaston for blogging her support for same sex marriages - an opinion which I suspect might not be universally popular throughout her local association.

Once a year is ample

As I'm sure you already knew, the week of 15-21 October will be European Local Democracy Week. I shall leave it to you to consider what happens to local democracy the rest of the year.

Torbay Council, which I had not previously thought of as an uber-enthusiast for all things European, is doing its bit to promote Local Democracy Week by publishing a wide range of helpful facts, figures and contacts - and for lazy journalists like myself, a press release. In French. It might be a few months before I'm able to report more.

The writing's on the wall

The idea that government can be better informed by e-petitions had me checking to see how enthusiastic are the citizens of Torbay for this very 21st century form of democracy. Only three such petitions have been attempted since the invention of the internet, the most popular being one asking Father Christmas for more bank holidays (322 supporters.) The least popular, and this is possibly a national record, is the petition to Torbay Council complaining about excessive vehicle noise. Total number of supporters: nil.

Pasty tax e-petition

I'm not sure which is funnier - the revelation that George Osborne does not pay higher-rate tax or the furious political fire-storm which has erupted over the pasty tax. There is an excellent analysis of how this extension of VAT will hit an important industry in Devon and Cornwall in Business Cornwall today. The anti-tax campaign swept through Twitter and Facebook in less than 24 hours and now enjoys the status of an e-gov petition. The answer is obvious. The pasty industry should simply hire Mr Osborne's accountants - and their tax problems will disappear.

The flogging will continue until morale improves

I applaud the Peninsula Community Health CIC for having the confidence to publish its board minutes. It looks as if January's meeting, which heard the outline results of a staff survey, might have raised a few eyebrows. On page 7:
"Paul Masters was keen to ensure we feedback to our staff on "you said, we did". He expressed his concern about those who reported having received physical violence from their manager."
I have asked for more details.
UPDATE: Many thanks to PCH chief exec Kevin Baber for returning my call, almost immediately, to explain. The physical violence flagged in the staff survey was 1% of all responses, in line with NHS staff surveys nationally. The survey was anonymous so he has no further details. There was one incident of violence in the past year, which was reported to management, which resulted in disciplinary action.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The pasty tax revolt

Budgets usually don't sound so good on Day Two, and so it's proving with the discovery that yesterday's announcement of measures by the Office of Tax Simplification to end VAT anomalies is today branded The Great Pasty Tax Swindle (#pastytax on Twitter everywhere.) Funnily enough the idea of a tax on Cornish pasties did not feature in a recent ComRes poll designed to identify the most unpopular taxes in Britain today. Of course, it's not really a tax on pasties specifically - it's just VAT, extended, and catching pasties in its net. I wonder how many of those Cornish MPs who today are working themselves into a frenzy in defence of the pasty remember voting to increase VAT to 20%? And will they now vote against the budget?

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Regional pay differences in the public sector

I've been trying to find out if the coalition government plans to tear up national pay and conditions in the public sector, introducing regional differentials to more closely reflect local market rates, will apply to Members of Parliament. Should an MP in the South East earn more than one from the South West?

I'm grateful to St Austell & Newquay MP Stephen Gilbert for cheekily tweeting his thoughts during the Chancellor's budget speech today:
"Doesn't think localising public sector pay is the way forward - don't want a race to bottom."

The government believes national pay deals distort local market conditions and stifle competition. But according to the TUC the coalition's proposals would have a particularly severe impact on the economy of Devon and Cornwall. I should declare an interest: the BBC is part of the public sector and is currently signed up to national agreements which ensure that a reporter in Devon or Cornwall gets paid the same as one doing an identical job in Surrey or Hampshire.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

It's a funny old world

The Public Whip website is great fun and a real eye-opener for anyone who cast their vote at the last general election expecting to get their voice reflected in Parliament. For example Totnes Tory MP Sarah Woolaston has voted against her Conservative colleagues on no fewer than 12 occasions, giving her a "rebel" status of 2.9%. By contrast North Devon Liberal Democrat Nick Harvey, now enjoying the trappings of office as Minister of State for the Armed Forces, has voted against the coalition government only once ("rebel" status 0.3%) - and that was on the subject of sustainable livestock.

Adrian and Andrew to escape the doctors' challenge

Today's news that a group of 240 doctors are so angry about Liberal Democrat support for changes to the National Health Service that they plan to field candidates against some Lib Dem MPs at the next election had me checking the record to see who risks such a challenge. It looks as if Torbay's Adrian Sanders and Andrew George of St Ives were the only Lib Dem MPs in Devon and Cornwall to defy their party whips and vote against the coalition government.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

The open and transparent scrutiny of Cornwall's stadium project

It looks as if any members of Cornwall Council who were hoping that next week's Cabinet meeting would shed more light on plans for a sports stadium at Threemilestone must wait a bit longer. As this confidential document makes clear, the issue should have been discussed next Wednesday with a "target implementation date" of the end of March.

Strange then that the stadium now doesn't appear on the agenda for the Cabinet meeting. The council's calendar of meetings says the next meeting of the the relevant scrutiny committee won't be until 4th April. Let's just call it "slippage."

Interesting, though, that this motion has been tabled by a group of Conservative councillors for the full council meeting on 27th March:
"This Council supports the development of a Stadium for Cornwall as a private sector led project and recommends to Cabinet that if the Council receives a request for financial support, whether direct or indirect, including by way of guarantees or provision of infrastructure, that the principle of providing such support be debated by Full Council before any decision be made by Cabinet."

It's hard to escape the feeling that three distinct camps have emerged in this saga. First, there are those senior council officials whose energetic enthusiasm for making the stadium happen seems to frighten those gentle souls more used to the long-winded democracy once traditional in local government. Second, there are the elected members of the council (including some cabinet members) who haven't the faintest idea what is going on and are very angry about it. And third, there are the "private sector partners" - particularly Inox - who are supposed to be leading the project but who are curiously reluctant to invest £15.2million in a company which doesn't have a profitable business plan.

In support of my first point I would quote the suggestion first reported in the West Briton that taxpayers would fund £8m worth of infrastructure to help that project which Inox is really interested in, namely the 1,500-home housing estate. In return, Inox was expected to stump up £7m towards the stadium. A cunning plan to get round the Section 106 rules? Would such a deal be legal? It doesn't feature in the recommendation which was due to have been discussed next week, so I guess it's been quietly dropped.

This would explain why Inox is so adamant that it is not putting any of its own money into the stadium - which as councillor Bob Egerton discovered, is perhaps just as well.

Perhaps the real mystery is that given the claimed economic and social benefits of a stadium, the council insisted right from the very start that only the private sector could deliver it. If this was the case, then why have we had a year of secret council meetings where the only topic of conversation has been how to finesse taxpayers' money into the project? Why not just consider the planning issues and leave the high finance to the market?

Maybe officials feared that if they pushed openly for a council-built stadium they would never win the political argument. Instead we have had policy made behind closed doors, with the current recommendation that £15.2m public money be used for a "guarantee," as if councillors are too dim to join the dots. For a council which cannot even keep its public toilets open, on the grounds that it has no statutory obligation to do so, this is the sort of priority which some councillors feel they ought to at least debate.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Whistling in the dark

It's good to know that anyone working for Torbay Council
"who has a serious concern about any aspect of the Council's work or the actions of its employees should voice their concerns through established channels, without fear of harassment or victimisation"
and that to this end
"Council employees and members of the public can report suspected frauds or poor practice (Not Housing Benefit) to the Audit Service via the confidential reporting service "Speak Up" by telephone or email. The dedicated Fraud Hotline is confidential and available 24 hours a day - 01803 207407."
I do hope that whoever is answering this confidential and dedicated Fraud Hotline 24 hours a day is OK. Here are the answers to my Freedom of Information Questions:

1. Since 1st January 2009, how many calls have been received by the Council's "Dedicated fraud hotline" for whistleblowers?

Since Jan 2009 the number of telephone calls received on the telephone hotline recorded as whistleblowers = 2. 4 other reports were received via the dedicated whistle blowing e-mail inbox .

2. How many of these calls resulted in an internal investigation?

Telephone calls resulting in internal investigation = 0. Of the 4 reports received via e-mail, 1 of these resulted in an investigation.

3. How many investigations resulted in disciplinary action or, eventually, prosecution?

Investigations resulting in discipline / prosecution = 0


Thursday, 15 March 2012

You're all wonderful

Congrats to Cornwall Council for picking up two gongs at the Local Government Chronicle awards bash last night. Winners in both Children's Services (for Newquay Safe) and Workforce (for Human Resources and Organisational Development.) Two out of five is better than the councils managed in Devon (nil.)

Cornwall was shortlisted for five categories in this year's awards :

  • • Most Improved Council of the Year Award

  • • Public Sector Partnerships Award for the Newquay Safe Partnership

  • • Children's Services Award for the NewquaySafe Partnership

  • • Public/ Private Partnerships Award for Superfast Cornwall

  • • Workforce Award for Human Resources and Organisational Development

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Cornwall's getting poorer

Good news:
"...Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are likely to continue to receive the highest level of European funding to help stimulate economic growth. This means the area stands to receive approximately €500 million between 2014 and 2020."
Bad news:
"Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly's GDP in 1999 before the start of our European funding programmes was 66% of the European average and peaked in 2006 at 78%.

"The figures for the reference period used by the EU to assess eligibility for the next round of European funding is likely to be 2007, 2008 and 2009 for which Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly's GDP was 74%, 73% and 72% respectively demonstrating the impact of the global recession."

- Cornwall Council press released based on European Commission data

Monday, 12 March 2012

Armand Blogs

Welcome to the blogosphere, Cornwall councillor and Cabinet member Armand Toms. It's early days yet, but I notice that Armand often seems to post before 6am - with one entry, last Friday, at 02.37am. That's keen.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Cornwall's Tories have new deputy leader

Congratulations to Cornwall councillor Mike Eathorne-Gibbons, who steps into the shoes vacated by Scott Mann two weeks ago. Mike represents Ladock, St Clement and St Erme and his elevation to the Tory leadership follows Friday's group meeting. I'm told that same group meeting agreed to maintain its policy on the stadium - a policy which says the project should not consume one more penny of taxpayers' money.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Foul calumnies

My new perch is the ideal place to report an amusing spat between property developer James Brent, the saviour of Plymouth Argyle, and the Torbay Member of Parliament Adrian Sanders. Adrian recently wrote a piece for the Torquay Herald Express speculating about James's intentions towards his recently-acquired Oldway Mansions, which he plans to convert to a hotel. Cue drum roll, trumpets and libel lawyers. Great fun.

Kettles and pots

I wonder if anyone laughed out loud when they read that a certain political party in Cornwall was complaining to police about a leaflet distributed during a recent Bodmin Town Council by-election. Surely not the same political party which once published a leaflet labelling an election rival "a greasy-haired ****?" (four-letter-word unsuitable for use before the BBC watershed)

The game's afoot

I'm really looking forward to moving into my new office, at Oldway Mansions, Paignton. I have been there only twice before - once to play in a chess congress, and once to play in the Torquay tennis tournament. Perhaps I have already formed the opinion that it's somewhere to go for recreation, rather than work. Don't tell the boss.

Both sides now

Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed that this blog is no longer "Graham Smith's Cornwall." Stripped of its geographic specificity, it is now simply "Graham Smith's Blog."

Some readers, I know, will welcome this development - while others might be disappointed. According to Google Analytics, the blog has attracted nearly 9,000 unique visitors since September, so allow me to attempt an explanation.

I no longer work for BBC Radio Cornwall. I now work for BBC Radio Devon. I still live in the same Cornish village which has been my home for the past 32 years - but Devon is a fine county and, in a previous life, for many years, I commuted daily to earn my crust with ITV in Plymouth. The car knows its own way.

Many people have asked me what will become of this blog. The answer is that it will continue - embracing news, views, insights etc etc - from both sides of the Tamar.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Lib Dems to reverse Police Commissioner decision?

Word reaches me that the number of Liberal Democrat grassroots activists in Devon and Cornwall, unhappy with their regional executive decision not to contest the Police Commissioner election in November, has now reached a critical mass - and could force a special regional conference on the issue. I've asked for an official statement and hope to update soon.

And here it is, sort of:

Dear Mr Smith

The special conference is an internal party matter therefore the Region has no comment at this time.

Yours sincerely

Kay Friend


Devon & Cornwall Region

Cornwall's Lib Dem MPs top Tory hit-list

My thanks to Conservative Home for pointing out that all three of the Cornish Parliamentary seats currently held by Liberal Democrats are in the Tories' top eight target seats.

Assuming boundary changes happen as recommended, here are the top Lib Dem marginals with percentage majority over Con

Guiseley and Yeadon 0.3

Bodmin and Newquay 0.3

Abingdon and Oxford North 0.3

Solihull 2.1

Richmond and Twickenham 2.2

Hazel Grove and Poynton 2.2

Truro and St Austell 2.5

St Ives 2.7

As Conservative Home puts it:
"When Tory MPs are most depressed with the failings and compromises of coalition government they comfort themselves with the thought that it is hurting the Liberal Democrats much more than it is hurting Conservatives. The Lib Dems are the bindweed of British politics. Once they've invaded territory they are hard to get rid of but the next election is our best opportunity in a generation to significantly cut their numbers. While they are down on the floor we shouldn't show mercy. We must finish them off."

With coalition friends like these, who needs enemies?

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Stadium cash - the secret details

Amazing the junk that people just leave laying around on my desk. But now that I've had a good read myself of the notorious "Stadium pink papers" I can report a few details which were previously unknown to me.

1. Option 1 in the document, written by the council's Head of Economic Development, outlined how the council would participate directly as a funder and member of the Cornwall Community Stadium Ltd. It looks as if Option 1 is not going to be pursued. Only five days ago the council said:
" has not changed its position from the previous Council decision that no public funding will be used for the stadium. Any suggestion that the Council could act as a guarantor for the project is very premature."

2. Option 2, which as previously reported calls on the council to guarantee the project, will be considered at a meeting of the Environment and Economy Overview & Scrutiny Committee on 21st March with a target "implementation date" of 31st March. Very premature?

3. The shortfall is at least £4.3million - much more than that if Inox's contribution is as flakey as it now appears.

4. The council is still of the opinion that Inox will chip in with £7m. This is despite Inox's very clear statement to the contrary.

5. The hotel developers will be called on to support the stadium to the tune of £0.5m.

6. On page 261 the secret report says: "The extent of community use of the stadium proposed by CCSL is not yet clear. However, CCSL has been incorporated as a private limited company and is not, therefore, a "not for profit" organisation or a body with charitable objects."

7. The papers are all marked "Exempt - Not for Publication." The council official who decided the documents were commercially confidential (so confidential, in fact, that it appears that even Inox has not seen them) is of course entitled to his opinion. Only a cynic would suggest that the idea of pouring millions of pounds of public money into this project is a profoundly political issue. I wonder if any members of the Environment and Economy Overview & Scrutiny Committee will challenge the "secret session" recommendation on 21st March.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

From a very disappointed leader

To all members of Cornwall Council:
"Dear colleagues,

"Regrettably following the recent incidence of late payment of council tax and childish tweeting, this week has been another disappointing one for the reputation of Cornwall Council.

"Last week we were able to set a budget which protected frontline services and provided additional funding for innovative projects such as the Cornwall Bursary and the Housing Strategy.

"However, rather than being able to build on this positive news, we have spent the last few days being criticised over our handling of the Stadium for Cornwall project. As you know the main part of the report which went to the Environment and Economy Overview and Scrutiny Committee was considered in Part 2 because it contained commercially sensitive information relating to third parties. This was agreed by Members who sit on the scrutiny committee after advice from the legal team.

"I am, therefore, very disappointed that the report has been leaked to the press. We do not make the decision to put an item into Part 2 lightly. We have been accused by some of failing to be open and transparent - but the fact is that we try to discuss as much as possible in the public part of a meeting. There will, however, occasionally be times when we need to discuss an issue in private. This is not because we have something to hide but because it enables us to have open and frank discussions which rely for their value on access to and knowledge of confidential background information.

"The report on the Stadium contained financial information relating to private sector companies and other stakeholders. It also contained a number of appendices with details of earlier discussions which had been overtaken by subsequent events. Making the information public in this way has not only caused confusion, it has also potentially damaged our relationship with the key stakeholders involved in the project.

"Some Members have suggested we should be "putting the record straight" by commenting on the content of the confidential report. While I share your frustration at the some of the comments which have been made, I support the view of the Monitoring Officer that this could lead to a situation where anyone wishing to make confidential information public deliberately leaks it to the media and then claims that it should be made available to everyone because the media has it. This would put the Council in an impossible situation when making decisions on potentially sensitive issues.

"As I said earlier I am very disappointed that a Member has chosen to leak the report to the media and I know that nearly all of you share that disappointment. There is a clearly set out code of conduct governing the behaviour of all Members and releasing confidential information breaches this code. Members have a duty to make sure that they do not act in a way that damages the reputation of the authority and I feel very strongly that we all need to uphold the responsibility we've been privileged to be given.

"Earlier this week Carolyn sent out an update on the discussions with staff and unions over a new collective agreement. As you know last year's collective agreement made a significant contribution to our financial strategy with savings of more than £6m. There is no question that this helped to save jobs and to protect front line service delivery. I would like to thank the staff and unions for working with us to protect jobs and services.

"I am pleased that we have been able to sign another collective agreement. Carolyn's message set out the main elements of the agreement, which will include a lifting of the pay freeze from April 1st, with increments paid on 1 April and again next year. After that we are looking to introduce contribution related pay. It also includes changes to mileage rates for staff in mainly frontline roles who do substantial business miles with little or no choice over whether they use their own vehicle. There will also be a new standby and call out payment scheme and a lifting of the cap on the hourly rate for overtime.

"The new agreement is not about putting back everything that was taken away but will help us address the most serious issues arising from last year's agreement without compromising our financial strategy. It will also enable us to develop pay arrangements that a more direct connection between an employee's pay and their contribution, and better align the Council's reward arrangements with its business objectives.

"I would like to end by welcoming yesterday's announcement by Fire Minister Bob Neill that that the we have been awarded £1.8m by the Government to improve our fire control function.

"We know that our current control room needs upgrading and this funding will enable us to move forward with plans to co locate Fire Control, Lifeline Alarm, Public Realm CCTV and Command Centre functions in one place. Des Tidbury and his team will now be working with partners to develop a range of potential options, one of which could be creating a new purpose built centre in the Camborne, Pool, Redruth area. .

With best wishes

Alec Robertson CC
Cornwall Council

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Seven days

This time last week:
The official stadium business plan, as published on the council's website, claimed Inox and the other partners in Cornwall Community Stadium Ltd had in place the "majority" of their capital requirements. But a significant part of the business plan was withheld from public gaze on the grounds of "commercial confidentiality."

We now know:
Inox has no intention of investing in the stadium. Yet the secret business plan claimed Inox would contribute £7m of the £15.2m required. Inox says:
"We have made no promises whatsoever and our position remains that we do not intend to fund the capital costs of the stadium, but we may be able to facilitate third party investment.....Inox Group has been in talks with third party private investors, and there is potential interest in funding the project but there is presently no formal agreement in place that would guarantee private sector funding."
The only CCS partner who can currently be relied upon to invest in the stadium is Truro & Penwith College - leaving a shortfall of more than £13m.

This time last week:
Cornwall Council said it would not contribute to the costs of building the stadium.

We now know:
The secret business plan suggested that the council contribute £8m in infrastructure costs and offer to underwrite the £15.2m capital spend. A bid to have this suggestion deleted from the business plan was defeated by 7 votes to 6 at a secret meeting on 22nd February.

This time last week:
Scott Mann was deputy leader of Cornwall Council's Conservative group.

We now know:
Next week's Conservative group meeting is going to be even more entertaining than usual.

Stadium: beginning of the end?

Cornwall stadium (mp3)
Councillors voted 7-6? That makes it rather more than just the blue-sky musings of a single officer. County Hall has got some explaining to do.

Why the stadium story isn't yet boring

Today's West Briton newspaper quotes details from the confidential "Part Two" council business plan. If this document is merely a senior council officer speculating about how taxpayers' money could help fund the stadium, then there is no reason why it should have been secret. I'll post details here as soon as I get time - it certainly explains Scott Mann's resignation. Meanwhile, very well done to Miles Davis of the West Briton.

UPDATE: Today's West Briton reports that the council is considering spending up to £8m on infrastructure, mainly building roads to serve both the stadium and the housing project. It also reports the council idea of underwriting the £15m stadium project.

The council has issued this response:

"The project to create a Stadium for Cornwall is still at an early stage. Clearly there is still a lot more work to be done on exploring the viability of the project.

"Discussions are continuing with the key stakeholders, namely Truro and Penwith College, Inox Group and the Cornish Pirates Rugby Football Club who have come together to form Cornwall Community Stadium Limited, and also Truro City Football Club on a range of issues, including how the project could be funded.

"The Council continues to support the principle of creating a multi purpose stadium for Cornwall, however it has not changed its position from the previous Council decision that no public funding will be used for the stadium. Any suggestion that the Council could act as a guarantor for the project is very premature. The Council has not received any such request from Cornwall Community Stadium Limited or any other body.

"While the Council is committed to being open and transparent, it would be inappropriate to comment on a confidential report. Members of the Economy and Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee agreed that the report should be considered in confidential session on the advice of the Council's legal team as it contains commercially sensitive information relating to third parties. Items such as this are held in confidential session to enable Members to discuss commercially sensitive information as part of their decision making and we are concerned that it has been made public in this way."