There has been a running debate – actually, a row – about the fire service in Cornwall. The county council Liberal Democrats have been accused of starving the service. I am looking in this post at two verdicts on the service.

First, Hansard 26 January 2009 column 110W gives some interesting data.

In 1997-98 there were 122 firefighters per 100 000 people in Cornwall. In 2007-08 that had declined to 115. However, those are way above the averages for England (92 and 88 for those years) and for 2007-08 Cornwall has the seventh best ratio of the forty six fire authorities in England, excluding the Scillies which are not strictly comparable with the others. In 1997-98 it was fifth.

There are other factors to be considered in judging the health of the service under the Liberal Democrats, including the overall budget, the proportion of fulltime and retained firefighters, and the number and location and hours of fire stations.

Second, there has just been a very critical report by the Audit Commission which cries out for improving action. But, while acknowledging other things, in the number of firefighters for its population Cornwall is doing very well compared to most of the England fire services. We should celebrate this.

A report by the BBC on the Audit Commission report is here.

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WHO GROUNDED CORNWALL?

3 December 2008

The RAF has run a military airport at St Mawgan, near Newquay; and for a while now Cornwall county council has at the same place run a commercial, civilian airport, called Newquay, Cornwall airport. The RAF provided the air traffic control. The county council was right to step in a few years back and take over the commercial part of the airport; it was costly to do this but right to ensure that in the twenty-first century Cornwall had an airport to help its economy and people. For this and for the continual development of the airport the county council deserve much credit.

In 2006 the RAF announced its decision to close down the military side in 2008; this was two years advance notice for the county council who was to take over the air traffic control and fire services there and obtain a CAA licence. In March this year the RAF delayed their withdrawal from 1 August 2008 until 1 December to help the county council. In a media statement the council said the delay would ensure a “seamless overnight handover” and a “seamless transition.”

However, two years later, December, and the council isn’t ready and the RAF has said its people are committed to other work elsewhere and their deadline cannot be altered again. The upshot is that at the last minute the airport has closed to passengers for about three weeks while the county council gets up to speed. The date of reopening is only a hope at present and not guaranteed.

Let’s get this clear. The county council is run by the Liberal Democrats who hold all the portfolio (executive or cabinet) posts; county council officers work under Liberal Democrat direction and supervision. At bottom, no matter what the part of others might turn out to be, this airport foul up is down to the Liberal Democrat administration at the county council which appears to have been surprised by the lack of readiness. Ironically the council’s newspaper for this month has a two-page spread on the council’s “masterplan” for the airport. The Libdem administration should accept responsibility for the foul up because it is responsible for it.

It isn’t just the airport, is it? This is the Libdem council that fouled up about the county’s fire service . This is the Libdem council that foisted the unitary council on to an unconvinced electorate, albeit with the active support of the Labour government. This is the Libdem council that took so long to agree on unitary councillor numbers that unitary elections have been postponed until, well, no one knows but perhaps June but probably autumn next year. This is the Libdem council that will probably not have all the unitary elements in place until even later than that. This is the Libdem council of whom assessment reports do not glow. Did I mention their council newspaper, Your Cornwall, delivered free to all households in Cornwall and which this month had only five job advertisements, though such advertisements were to help to pay for it?

Three months ago I put up a quiz about the Liberal Democrats in Cornwall after the unitary seats nonsense: was their county administration a pantomime, or a farce, a circus, an opera buffa, a burlesque, or a cabaret? That was before the shambles of the airport. Eventually, at some ever-receding date we shall get the chance to vote on this Liberal Democrat record.

Additamentum 18 December 2008
The Civil Aviation Authority has now granted Newquay Cornwall airport an operating licence and the airport will reopen on 20 December 2008.

THE GRAND OLD DUKE OF YORK

3 December 2007

Listen. Can you hear the sound of feet marching backwards? Or is it forwards?

Earlier this year there were county council proposals on the grounds of lack of money to end 24 hour cover from the fire stations at Camborne and Falmouth, the only fulltime stations in Cornwall, and provide only daytime cover.

There have been widespread protests from people here, the Labour and Conservative parties in Cornwall, and firefighters; there have been demonstrations and a newspaper campaign. There was a fire at Newquay in August which showed the problems graphically.

There have been the usual Libdem complaints that the Labour government is not giving Cornwall county council enough money and last month a council delegation failed to persuade the government to give them more money for the fire service. Now the Liberal Democrat county council executive has heard the anger and alarm among voters and decided that in January it will recommend to the full council that Camborne (but not Falmouth) fire station is kept open 24 hours a day, fully crewed.

Apparently the council has the money needed after all.

It is tempting to hail this as listening to what people say and adjusting what one does accordingly, getting it wrong and then putting it right. What we might call democracy. However, I recall that the county council Liberal Democrats did not listen to the people of Cornwall when it came to the unitary council proposals. Listening and not listening. Camborne but not Falmouth. I can’t see any coherent principle of government here. This is not a policy, it’s a shambles.