Hmmm, as I have said before to Mebyon Kernow (MK), I now say to myself: fas est et ab hoste doceri. Thus, Eric Pickles, the Tory communities secretary, has rightly celebrated the coming into force next month of section 40 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014. This is by way of the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014.

Section 40 and the regulations make for council transparency by allowing people to film and audio record council meetings in England and tweet their happenings during or after the meeting.

In Cornwall it applies inter alia to the unitary and town/parish councils. Admirably, some Cornwall unitary council meetings are already officially filmed and this is watchable for free in real time on the web; tweets are regularly made by some during meetings. However, in some other areas of England police have been called in order to prevent local people recording council meetings: hence section 40, largely superfluous for Cornwall Council but necessary for some others.

Of course people should be able to record what councillors and officers say and do in order that they can hold them to account and better understand their decisions and so that proceedings are accessible to those of the public who cannot be present. Let me say it, Eric Pickles, sigh, has struck a blow for local democracy. This stands alongside Labour’s Freedom of Information Act 2000 as the empowerment of people in relation to those who govern them. This is a good thing.

Note
Fas est … OVID (43 BCE-17 CE) Metamorphoses 4, 428 (It is right to learn even from the enemy)


As we glide effortlessly into the unitary set up, let me recall the present political disposition of Cornwall.

In 2005 there were elections for the eighty two county council seats and a general election for the five seats; in 2007 there were elections for the six district councils, elections for the whole council in five of the districts and for a third in Penwith. The results of these give us the present party make-up of Cornwall.

Overall nearly 800 000 votes were cast in the three sets of elections. Here they are in percentages:

General election 2005
Liberal Democrats 44.4, Conservatives 31.8, Labour 15.9, UKIP 5, MK 1.4, Greens 0.7, all others 0.9

County council elections 2005
Liberal Democrats 39.2, Conservatives 24.1, Independents 19.5, Labour 10.5, MK 3.2, Greens 1.3, UKIP 1.1, all others 1.1

District elections 2007
Liberal Democrats 36.1, Conservatives 30.7, Independents 20.0, MK 3.9, Labour 3.5, UKIP 2.5, Greens 0.7, all others 2.6.

There are caveats.

These figures do not compare the same seats over time but different seats. The aim is to give a general county snapshot using the latest figures available in the three sets.

In the county and district elections some seats had more than one councillor elected and so people had more than one vote. The percentages are based on totals of votes not ballot papers. The “others” include unlabelled candidates, Liberals (a separate party from Liberal Democrats), two BNP candidates, and Veritas. Uncontested seats are excluded.

The votes cast for a party depend in part on how many candidates stand for that party though how many candidates a party puts up reflects its organisational and membership health and its estimate of its chances.

The parties perform differently in the seats and these overall figures, which represent general averages of real votes, do not reveal those differences. A couple of very popular candidates do wonders for a small party’s total vote and percentage and make it difficult to assess that party’s general standing with the electorate. These considerations suggest that in local elections at any rate some people do not vote only for a party.

The general election throws up very different results so here are the two local government sets in percentages of votes cast, county 2005 and districts 2007, more than half a million votes:

Liberal Democrats 37.9, Conservatives 26.9, Independents 19.7, Labour 7.5, MK 3.5, UKIP 1.7, Greens 1.1, Others 1.7.

Finally, these figures are about people’s choices. Seats won are a different matter, about power.

The next elections are in spring 2009 for the unitary council.

_________________________________________________

Bewildered in the maze of schools: Alexander Pope (1688-1744) An essay on criticism

HOW HAVE THEY DONE ?

21 March 2008

As we slither towards unitary local government I should like to record in this post the historic council tax in Cornwall and its districts. The full details are given here. I have worked out the percentage rises over the eleven years from 1997/98 to 2007/08 for a band D property, excluding parish council tax and that is what I have put here.

Cornwall county council 99 percent increase

Caradon district council 97

Carrick district council 78

Kerrier district council 77

Penwith district council 47

North Cornwall district council 75

Restormel district council 97

Devon and Cornwall police authority 164

ENGLAND (all councils etc) 92

The typical band D council tax in Cornwall in 2007/08 ranged from £1263 to £1322, which is £24-25 a week. People living in these areas over the past decade will judge for themselves whether they have had value for money.

What sort of increases can we expect from a unitary council? More county than Penwith, I expect. The government will probably have to keep capping the rises in council tax.

Of course, we have been promised – well, I’m not sure it is an encashable and enforceable promise, more an aspiratory promise, I expect it’ll turn out to be – that moving to a unitary council “will save more than £17 million of Cornish tax payers’ money a year.” That’s a lot of bottled water or a cut in council tax. Hmm, difficult choice.

NOTE
The link to the data does not always work. The url is http://www.local.communities.gov.uk/finance/ctax/data/ctaxtimes.xls

In recent polls around 81 percent of voters in Cornwall opposed the county council’s proposals for a unitary council. In Penwith the figure was a massive 89 percent. See this post.

Nevertheless, the Liberal Democrat county council has decided to persist with its proposals. The five MPs for Cornwall, all Liberal Democrats, supported the original unitary proposals and have supported this decision to persist in the face of vast public rejection. Incidentally, the council’s decision to persist was supported in a vote by only thirty two of the eighty two county councillors.

The MPs have consulted stakeholders in each constituency – people like doctors and school governors. I do not know how many people were consulted and replied, six or sixty or six hundred. I don’t know what questions were asked but I see on one of the websites there is a survey for the public with a series of questions which asked if they supported more decisions being taken locally by “elected Cornish representatives” rather than by “unelected authorities” in the south west region which isn’t the point as people aren’t being asked to decide on an abstract principle but on actual on-the-ground proposals. I assume the stakeholders were asked the same or similar questions by the MPs. If one asks that general question mutatis mutandis anywhere in England one can pretty well guarantee the answer. The MPs got an unsurprising majority Yes vote.

To interpret this as a vote in support of the unitary proposals would be absurd.

An MP should listen to what his or her constituents say and, if consonant with his judgement and principles, accommodate them, but listening does not necessarily mean agreeing. I think if four fifths of constituents, or even nine tenths as in Penwith, take a particular view an MP is still free to stick to his contrary view; indeed it might be seen as his duty to since an MP owes his constituents his judgement not his compliance, but he has also a representative duty to tell the government that most of his constituents disagree with him and to explain to his constituents why he thinks them wrong.

The Liberal Democrat MPs apparently believe that half a loaf is better than none and that a unitary council could lead to many more powers than are on offer at present and a de facto devolved regional assembly for Cornwall – the summa summarum for Liberal Democrats here. I do not share their conviction and for all their trumpeted meetings with the government about this the MPs are not giving guarantees about more powers, but in the long term they might be right. However, this fails to address the seriously unsatisfactory aspects of the current proposals with which we might be lumbered for many a year.

In the meantime, Penwith district council has asked the government whether additional and serious powers will in fact be devolved to a unitary council in Cornwall so we should soon know the answer to that.

To sum up. 81 percent of voters in Cornwall reject the unitary proposals. The county council and five MPs still support the proposals.

In the light of the decisive rejection of the unitary proposals by people in Cornwall, the government cannot credibly go ahead with them. To persist would be to dismiss out of hand people’s views and in a matter of local government that is absurd. The final decision should rest with the people whose local government it is.

Oh, and I expect we shall sooner or later be told by the MPs and the Liberal Democrats generally on some issue or other that the government isn’t listening to people. The Liberal Democrat MPs and Liberal Democrat county council have established – and I agree with them – that to listen to people does not necessarily mean to agree with or to obey, no, not even if it’s nine tenths of people.

VORSPRUNG CORNWALL 1

26 June 2007

I shall post here continuing good news for Cornwall, developments which will positively help the people of Cornwall and the local economy and everyday lives. Everyone who wants the people of Cornwall to succeed in the modern world will welcome them. This post covers February-June 2007. Vorsprung Cornwall 2 covers 2007 from July onwards.

* June 2007 – Cornwall’s first “extra care” project has been launched. Sarsen Housing Association is to work with Caradon district council to provide fifty five “extra care” dwellings at Liskeard for elderly people who will be able to live independently but with care and support. There is a hurdle: central government funding will be needed from the Housing Corporation and Department of health but the providers are optimistic about this. See here for information.

* June 2007 – SOLD, a shared housing ownership program for people with learning disabilities, has got substantial funding – capital and revenue – from the department of adult social care of Cornwall county council to provide around twelve shared ownership dwellings in Cornwall. See here for more details and here for details about SOLD.

* June 2007 – As part of its dignity in care program the government (Department of health) has given Cornwall county council £740 000 for improving the material environment in care homes in Cornwall.

* Two Redruth companies have developed an eco surfboard of which more than half is from renewable materials. See www.suscomp.com.

* A good time for Cornwall. Last month (April) at Twickenham the Cornish Pirates and Mounts Bay rugby teams won their trophies and this week Truro City football club won the FA Vase at Wembley – all of them capital sports successes for Cornwall. And we have just had Helston Flora day, St Ives May day, and Padstow Obby Oss day festivities. A great time for Cornwall.

* May 2007- The Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust (RCHT) is serving organic meals, largely sourced in Cornwall, to patients. More than four fifths percent of the RCHT food budget was spent in Cornwall in 2006, a doubling. The distance travelled by the food is down by two thirds. The cost of all these improvements is the same.

This is good news for patients who rate RCHT food much more highly than is general in hospitals in England, good news for the Cornwall economy as local producers get more business, and even good news for the environment in the cut in food travel miles.

* May 2007 – Several miles of new dual carriageway of the A30 is now open in a bypass of Goss Moor and the hit-me rail bridge. It gets easier and easier to get into and out of Cornwall.

* April 2007 – The wave hub, the proposed wave energy project off St Ives Bay, has now received a total of £28 million which, subject to government and EU approval, means it could be built next year. It could produce about three percent of Cornwall’s domestic electricity. About two hundred jobs are likely to be created initially. The money comes from government and EU aid to Cornwall.

See www.southwestrda.org.uk for more details.

* St Julia’s hospice at Hayle has been given £35 000. This is part of a £40 million tranche of grants from the Department of health announced on 9 April 2007 for 146 hospices to improve their built environments. See here.

* The government has given £575 000 to public bodies in Cornwall, led by the county council, to tackle child poverty. This will be match funded by the local public bodies. The focus will be on prevention of poverty and the aims include more parents in employment, reduced inequalities in opportunities, and better take-up of benefits and tax credits. See here.

* A scheme since 2004 has been quietly bringing preserving and renovating historic and architecturally worthy buildings in Redruth. So far eleven buildings have been or are in the process of being renovated.

The Redruth heritage economic regeneration scheme (Redruth HERS) gives grants for renovation to be done in away that respects the historic and architectural value of the buildings.

The reasonable hope is that this will build pride and confidence and foster the economic life of the town.

See more about Redruth HERS here.

* The Cornishman reports 15 March 2007 that ninety six pupils of Cape Cornwall school who live at Pendeen are getting free transport to school after a campaign by a mother who moved to Pendeen from Bedfordshire in September 2006. The road was found to be hazardous.

* There is good news for disabled people in Cornwall.

In 2007/2008 the government (Department for communities) is giving £1 455 000 to help disabled people in Cornwall with adaptations to their homes. This is a ten percent increase on the previous year’s grant. See here.

* Newquay airport is getting £11 million from the EU, having had £8 million from the South West Regional Development Agency at the end of last year. The airport sees the start of daily flight to Gatwick and the return of the seasonal flights to Edinburgh next month, and in May the start of flights to Belfast. See the airport website.

* The duchy of Cornwall is proposing a project near Newquay which will include shops, offices, a primary school, and about 850 houses, including affordable ones. The project will have ecological features such a solar panels, biofuel heating, and first class insulation, a real attempt at sustainable and green development. See the design and development part of the duchy’s website.

* In February 2007 a start has been made on the bypass for Dobwalls on the A38. It is due for completion in September 2008 and will be a very welcome relief for the people who live there – and the people who presently drive through.

* On 22 February the Department of Transport announced that in 2007/08 two railway stations in Cornwall are among those getting grants for improving access for disabled people. Saltash gets £27 000 for improvements in lighting, signing, and paving. St Austell gets £250 000 for disabled parking and a new bridge with lift access.

* Hayle day care centre has got a lottery grant of £50 000 provided it can raise another £61 000 in the next few months. The money will be used to make a new dining room for the eighty elderly who people eat lunch at the centre every day.

Original post Vorsprung Cornwall was dated 15 February 2007

DISUNITARY CORNWALL

4 June 2007

There is a possibility of local government reorganisation and limited devolution in Cornwall by way of a unitary council. Two arguments have emerged: Is a unitary council an idea to be taken up? and How do people in Cornwall get a say? I’m here primarily concerned with the latter question.

The case for limited devolution anywhere in England rests on taking power from the central goverment and its appointed or indirectly elected agencies and giving it to the locals; more power to the people who live here rather than in remote Westminster. Locals, the argument goes, the people on the ground here, know best about what is needed and wanted locally and should decide. Indeed, the Labour government in its letter of 26 October 2006 inviting unitary proposals spoke of such proposals needing to “empower local people so that they have the power to influence decisions that affect their lives” (paragraph 3.9.ii). It’s an attractive and persuasive argument though there remains the difficulty of post code lottery and the form of devolution is arguable.

Incidentally, the description of the proposals as a single council for Cornwall is misleading. If I understand them, there will also be additionally at least sixteen community networks (sort of forums/councils) and presumably the present 209 town and parish councils will remain.

Why should people in Cornwall get a vote on the proposals?

Although the government wrongly put the stress on consulting and securing the agreement of “stakeholders and partners” for a unitary council – for example, the fire service but not individual firemen in Cornwall – it also said in its invitation letter that a change to unitary arrangements should have support from a range of people and groups including “service users/citizens” (paragraph 3.5). That means members of the public, and how can their views be discovered except by asking them?

It is sensible to see whether the proposed unitary changes command public support. What do people in Cornwall think? What’s the best way to find out what people think? Easy, you ask them, you organise a vote. At the end of the day a yes-or-no decision will be made by the government to go ahead or not with a unitary Cornwall council so it makes sense to ask the people of Cornwall to vote Yes or No. That way we get a clear result from people. The government should have insisted on a poll of every adult in Cornwall.

Consultation by leaflet

Cornwall county council, controlled by a Liberal Democrat majority, has proposed a unitary council. A binding referendum on the unitary issue would not be legal but an advisory poll is. The county council could have gone for such a countywide poll to ascertain what the people of Cornwall want, whether they support or oppose a unitary council, and the result would have been an unmistakable expression of people’s views, giving them genuine influence over the decision. Conservative and Labour county councillors pressed for a popular vote.

However, the Libdem county council rejected the clarity of a yes-or-no poll and has chosen instead to consult people through an oblique approach. Consequently every household is being sent an informative leaflet asking for their views – but not containing a straightforward yes-or-no voting slip. The public is asked on a post-paid slip “What do you think about” the creation of a unitary council for Cornwall? The slip also invites people to “send any further comments” to the county council.

The leaflet presents a good general case for a unitary council and it certainly is a good idea to give people information about the proposals but, damagingly, the county leaflet contains only the case in favour of a unitary council with no doubts expressed; for example, the serious challenge to the unitary financial arithmetic is unmentioned. This is wholly unacceptable: people are not given the counterarguments and therefore this leaflet does not help them make a truly informed choice. Read the whole leaflet at www.cornwall.gov.uk.

Thus a clear vote for people is avoided, leaving the responses to be interpreted by the county council. Consultation seems to mean asking people for their views without actually asking them directly and simply whether they approve or oppose the unitary proposals. Only one side of the arguments is presented. This is a seriously wrong approach for a party that has the words liberal and democrat in its title.

District councils give people a balanced leaflet and a vote

Fortunately for most people in Cornwall, they will also receive a balanced leaflet and a vote from district councils, who will be abolished under the unitary proposals and who oppose them. North Cornwall district council has produced its own leaflet which strikes me as a very fair one; it sets out the county council’s unitary case and in a separate column its own counterarguments, along with a post-paid voting slip. This is going to a random six thousand houses in North Cornwall. Details of all this are at www.ncdc.gov.uk.

Penwith, Kerrier, Caradon, and Carrick district councils, four of the six Cornwall district councils, are going to have a direct “Do you want” yes-or-no postal vote around the unitary council question for all the people in those four areas. There is a balanced leaflet with the unitary case and some of the persuasive counterarguments of Michael Chisholm (Department of Geography, Cambridge University) and a yes-no postpaid voting card. The district councils’ leaflet and the full Chisholm paper can be read at www.kerrier.gov.uk. These four councils, along with North Cornwall, have taken seriously the government talk of empowering people and giving them influence.

Lamentable

Whatever the vote result, the district leaflets and polls are seriously embarrassing for the outdemocratted Liberal Democrat county council. The decision not to have a public poll and to put out at taxpayers’ expense a leaflet which presents only one side of the argument is lamentable.

Footnote

The figures for the cost of shifting to a unitary council and the likely savings from one rather than the present mixture of county and district councils in Cornwall are now bewilderingly varied. They range from £19 million to £27.8 million in set up costs and £6 million to £17 million in annual savings.

In the elections on 3 May 2007 for district councils in Cornwall, all the seats in five of the six Cornwall councils were up for election and eleven were in Penwith. That’s a total of 225 seats.

Mebyon Kernow put up twenty four district council candidates. This party is not a major player.

Seven Mebyon Kernow district councillors were elected. MK lost one district seat and gained two, a nett gain of one. It got around 5 percent of the total vote in the district elections in Cornwall.

In the parish/town council elections at the same time twenty one MK councillors were elected (a few were unopposed), a nett gain of one.

MK Cornish political nationalism is still vastly unpersuasive to most voters in Cornwall. This party is not speaking for most people in Cornwall.

See the post Does MK speak for the people of Cornwall?