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.