Archive | June, 2013

Kaishaku

28 Jun

If a Japanese of Samurai rank was found to have committed a blunder, rather than resign he had to kill himself. This ritual suicide was called Seppuku not Hara Kari, as this is a slang expression for slit belly. If the man was of a higher rank such as a War Lord or Prince, he was allowed the service of a Kaishaku. One has to remember that disembowelment is a very slow and painful death, often taking hours, and so the rich and powerful were allowed to have themselves beheaded to shorten their suffering. It was considered very undignified if ones head rolled across the floor, and so the Kaishaku was chosen for his sword mastery so that he could deliver a single blow and sever the head except for a small flap of skin at the front.

George Osborne is not a Kaishaku. He is not a master of the cut. He has got a whole load of people shoving him in various directions so he may well miss the target altogether. The one thing he has managed to do is to hack a massive hole in the budgets of Local Authorities. This is doubly unfair because as a first attempt to reduce Government spending, the policy was to palm off duties normally carried out by Central Government onto the Councils. This was accompanied by a tight grant fund, on the basis that if you are careful and efficient you can provide the services with this money. If you are profligate, it will not suffice.

However, the money was not distributed on the basis of greatest need, but rather on how far you were away from Westminster, and how likely you were to be swung to vote Tory. Cornwall has always done very badly on the distribution of central funding, getting less per capita for Schools, Hospitals and Police than other similar sized Authorities.

Mebyon Kernow were very quick off the mark to condemn the cuts. Leader Dick Cole has calculated that the original cuts plus the additional 10% cut announced in the latest Spending Review means that Cornwall will have a grant shortfall of £546 million by 2015. Even before the Spending Review, the Council admitted that it could not meet its Adult Care budget, and further front line service cuts are bound to follow.

To a certain extent, Cornwall Council has tried to pull the same trick as Central Government. Things such as public toilets have been passed down into the care of the Parish Councils with the accompanying costs. These include a business rate charge against the toilet, and a previously contracted cleaning and maintenance regime that causes most Parish Councillors eyes to water. There have also been funding cuts to Parish Council for services such as grass cutting and cemetery upkeep, and this has become apparent in the way that some villages are looking neglected.

Is all this inevitable? Should we just be tightening the belt even further on the basis that if we hang on things will get better? I see no sign of it. I just see the same old policies at Lys Kernow but in Trumps. The mantra goes that it takes a long time to put a plan, a strategy, a policy into place, and if at the time it has gone through the mill, it comes out unfit for purpose and costing a fortune, all the Councillors can do is to wring their hands and say it can’t be altered now. During the administration before the last one, in other words more than five years ago, two major policies were put in place that have turned out to be absolute disasters. One is Newquay Airport, and the other is the Incinerator. The thing that makes me despair is that the two Councillors who were in charge of these projects, incidentally, neither of whom lived or represented an electorate anywhere near the scene of the shambles they created, have managed to get themselves re-elected onto the Council. It looks like both of these mistakes are going to cost Cornwall about £30 million a year and rising. However no one up at Treyew Road seems to be able to find the stop button.

The only thing they can do is to talk about cuts.

Off down The Tunnel

25 Jun

I have to admit it, I am a Europhile. Most years I pack my bag and head for St. Pancras. You stick your ticket in the slot, go through security and half an hour later you are on your way. Down the Tunnel and I am ready to sample other food, language and culture. Second thing I have to admit, I hate flying, but Eurostar is easy and inexpensive, it also is less polluting than flying.

Over the years since I retired I have visited France, Brittany, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Catalonia by this method. Sometimes I go on an organised trip, sometimes I go native, and just take what comes. One of the greatest things is that when I wear Cornwall badges or tee shirts people come up and greet you like a long lost pal, particularly in Brittany and Catalonia. I feel really guilty that they all speak perfect English while my attempts at their language are pitiful. I wonder if all this will stop if we carry on with this anti-Europe nonsense?

Yes there are things wrong with the Politics of Europe, but they have nothing to do with the people who live there. They complain about their politicians just the same as we do. So what is fuelling the upsurge in Europhobia? There is some suggestion that the root cause is not politics at all, but some form of Xenophobia or even racism. The Greek word root for Xenophobia means a morbid desire not to play host. This means that we like being treated by others, but when it comes to our turn we duck out, not very nice. Some people say that this stems from the Second World War, when Germany and Italy were our enemies, and some, such as the Swiss stayed out of it to their own advantage. I find it difficult to believe that this is still being used to infect relationships with present day Germans. The younger generation find it hard to credit that they are still being blamed for a war fought by their Grandparents.

If it is true that politics is at the root of it, is the situation so bad that the baby has to be thrown out with the bath water? Or is it something that can be worked on and rectified? I think this will depend upon where you think the problem lies. Some say it is the cost balance, we pay more to Europe and we don’t get much back. Some say it is a financial mess caused by the Euro Zone in relation to Sterling. Yet others say it is concerned with legislation that allows our laws to be over ruled by Europe. There is also the point about the dichotomy between the European Parliament and the European Commission.

So lets look at these issues. The UK has always seen itself as one of the great movers and shakers in world power, so we are supposed to be top of the list for everything. Some chance, when we are hundreds of times smaller in population and land size when compared to China, India or the USA. But we do find it hard to admit that we are a poor relation. Therefore we tend to do everything by the book except admit that we need help. As a result, we tend to be judged by the prosperity of the City of London and the South East. Rather than distribute power and wealth equally across the UK, the Government has chosen to ignore the “regions”. This has meant that areas such as Cornwall have been defined as poor and failing by European standards and have allowed us to draw down funds, first as Objective One, and then as Convergence funding. We may have arguments over how this has been spent or wasted, but it has meant some adjustment in our finances.
The question is, where will this money come from if we turn our back on Europe? Will the Tories or UKIP give us the equivalent amount from what they will be saving in European payments? Hang on! I have just seen a squadron of cows take off from Newquay Airport! Therefore, if we like to give the impression that we are all fat cat City Brokers and our politicians are all Public School educated and that we are all rolling in cash, it is hardly surprising that Europeans want us to give money to them rather than the other way round. What is needed is a look at the method for measuring how the European cake is cut, so that we get our fair share, not going on hunger-strike so we don’t get anything.

With regard to the Euro, I have to make a third admission, (things go in threes), and that is that I am hopeless with money. I find it very easy to only have one form of currency when I go to Europe. I do realise that the standard of living and the tax system varies from country to country, but would it not be simpler to use the “Mars Bar” rate of exchange? This is a formula created by a prankster who found out that no matter what happens to the rate of inflation it will still take the same number of Mars Bars to buy a house or a car or anything else. Therefore why can’t each European Country keep its own currency and then have a universal currency that is used for everyday activities such as shopping and paying bills? This would be the Euro and we would use it as a token.

I don’t agree with the idea that European legislation over rules everything in the UK. It is true that where issues overlap State borders there has to be some common law. It is no good one State being allowed to do things that are forbidden in another. The problem is that because there are so many States, and a lot of egos to be massaged, the process cannot be rushed. Therefore EU Directives seem to be always being reviewed and altered. It is a choice between this and a hard line, take it or leave it approach, and I think the current system is preferable. Some people ask why should we do things the same way as the Germans or the Dutch? My answer to that is, if theirs is the best way, why not? It is this old British Jingoistic supremacy rearing its head again.

The big issue of late on the legislative front has been the European Court of Justice. The reason why this has become a hot potato is because a good number of cases concern immigration, and so we have a covert racist agenda at the back of it. Perhaps people should realise how hard it is to get a case taken to the European Courts. Firstly the matter has to be dealt with by the UK Courts, and generally a lower court must first agree that it is a matter for the High Court. If the decision of the High Court is challenged it goes to the UK Court of Appeal. If there seems to be grounds to challenge the Appeal Court ruling, then the person or group can apply to the Supreme Court to take the case to the European Court. I think that as a final safety valve this is a good system. It can however, be milked by unscrupulous lawyers, but this doesn’t mean that the system itself is wrong.

The final, and to my mind, most difficult problem is the combination of the EU Parliament and the EU Commission. This will need a lot of sorting out. Firstly, there are far too many European Civil Servants. Some of them are very good and are of a far higher calibre than those found in most of the States, but they have multiplied out of hand, and this is costing too much.

My main grouse though, is the way in which each Country is represented in the EU Parliament. Some areas such as Cornwall, have specific problems that have a European dimension to them. Examples here would be fishing policy, long coastline open to drug smuggling, low disposable income, reliance on farming, and a host of others. Cornwall is also unique in that it is recognised by Europe as having a cultural identity. Kernewek, the Cornish language, is recognised by Europe. In order to support the cultural and political identity of Cornwall, a political party was formed 60 years ago to promote these issues. It is called Mebyon Kernow, the Party for Cornwall.
However, even if every person in Cornwall, eligible to vote, voted for MK in the European elections, the party would still loose its deposit. This is because the European seat of which Cornwall forms part, is known as South West England and Gibraltar, and this has a combined electorate of about 4 million.
Of this, Cornwall has an electorate of about 420,000, and is therefore unable to elect a representative that will have the issues of Cornwall as their key consideration. It is often said that this is only fair when you consider how small Cornwall is. People who think this way need to ponder the following, Iceland applied to join the EU in 2009 and is well on the way to achieving this ambition. The population of Iceland is under 320,000, and so the electorate over 18 will be about half that of Cornwall, and they will have their own MEP. The main reason why the Icelanders want to join the EU is to support their fishing industry!

How Green is my Cornwall?

19 Jun

Cornwall Council have a policy called “Green Cornwall”. At the last Cabinet meeting a kind of “end of term” report was given on many aspects of Council Policy. This was called The Integrated Performance Management Report Year end 2012-13, and in it, Green Cornwall is given a fairly clean bill of health, with a final proviso. This is: “However, there is a risk that the lack of resource moving forward has reached a point where the programme is
struggling to function effectively and retain its corporate focus and identity.” In other words they want more money.

In order to find out if it is worth finding the money in times of austerity and cuts to front line budgets, it is necessary to be clear what Green Cornwall stands for. Unfortunately the Council are somewhat wooly here. The overarching concern seems to be the need to reduce the Carbon Footprint and the reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions. However, the plot seems to become convoluted when you try to find out why they want to do this. There is mention of targets, (presumably set by Government), and lots of carrot in terms of savings that can be made, jobs created etc. There doesn’t appear to be much about emissions reduction as a method of saving the planet and the environment and wildlife of Cornwall. I wonder why?

Well it could have something to do with this wonderful £150m toy that Cornwall Council and Sita are planning to build at St. Dennis. The Green policy is strong on renewable energy from non-fossil fuel sources, but is totally silent when it comes to where a 240,000 tonnes per year mass burn incinerator fits into all this. The reason why the Council are pushing a wind-turbine on every corner and a solar panel on every roof is supposed to be because these do not emit Greenhouse Gases or increase the Carbon Footprint. The incinerator is laughingly called Cornwall Energy Recovery Centre. This is a joke because there are two types of incinerators permitted by the Environment Agency, Disposal Facilities and Energy Recovery Facilities. Guess what? The St. Dennis facility is permitted as Disposal. Only plants burning concentrated fuel in the form of RDF can reach the level of efficiency to be classified as Energy Recovery. The St. Dennis Incinerator is even worse than most as it is not capable of using waste heat after electricity generation. This is called Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and the reason why none is being used is because due to its location, the plant had a very limited number of customers for waste steam heat. The developers had tied all their hopes on the local China Clay works taking the steam. However, when this was sold to a rival, they already had a more advanced method and did not want the steam. Incidentally, saving of jobs at the China Clay plant by providing cheap heat was one of the main points used to sway the Inspector at the Public Inquiry.

So now we come to the trump card, does the use of an Incinerator to generate power fit in with Green Cornwall Policy? The calculations here are very complex because they include lorry movements to transport waste to various locations, and the energy used in parts of the pre-treatment processes. However as a rule of thumb, Incineration produces a Carbon footprint and Greenhouse Gas emission about twice that of the best method of dealing with household waste. The best method is currently said to be Reduction/Sort/Recycle/Digest. By using this method over Incineration, Cornwall would save 2.5 million tonnes of Greenhouse Gas emissions over the life of the waste contract.

Why is this important to Green Cornwall? The key point here is that the original planning policy was to search for a site in Central Cornwall with easy access. They even managed to get that wrong because as explained at the Public Inquiry, it is not possible to use rail for transporting the waste for logistic reasons and freight capacity. The A30 does not feed directly into the site, and this has required the building of a £10 million road at the tax payers expense. And they have ended up with a site slap bang in the middle of an area which is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and an area of European Special Area of Conservation (SAC). This used to be the area including Goss Moor, but this is now being expanded to include a larger area and now named Mid-Cornwall Moors SAC. The main features of this area are special kinds of bog, heath and grass land. Also due to the covering of China Clay, there are some very special features that provide a habitat for wildlife.

In this area there are no less than four very rare species which will be under threat from the Incinerator. The main one is the rarest plant in the UK, known as Marsupella profunda, the Western Rustwort. This is a tiny moss like plant which only grows on crumbling China Clay. 50% of the world population occurs on this SAC. Despite being so rare, the authorities have taken the attitude, lets suck it and see what happens! In addition, a very rare bird Camprimulgus europeaus, the Nightjar also inhabits this SAC. Nightjars flying near the site of another planned Incinerator at Nottingham caused it to be rejected. There are also two rare butterflies, a rare mud snail, and a rare beetle.

Why are these plants and animals affected by the Incinerator? Well mainly because Incineration or burning is a process of oxidation. Thus many substances which go into the incinerator as something else, come out as an oxide gas. Once these oxide gases come into contact with moist air, they turn into acids. Thus waste containing Nitrogen such as garden and food waste produce Nitric Acid, substances containing Sulphur including textiles produce Sulphuric Acid, and substances containing Carbon such as plastics and paper produce Carbonic Acid. Plastics also produce high levels of Hydrogen Chloride which produces Hydrochloric acid. This whole lot forms together to produce Acid Rain. Marsupella is such a primitive plant that it does not have roots. It absorbs food in rain water through the surface of its leaf-like body. It also reproduces by letting its sex cells float towards each other on moisture. So near the incinerator it will be feeding and reproducing in a bath of acid.
For most other plants and animals the effect is not direct. However, these chemicals fall on the soil and are taken up by other plants which provide the food for animals. Thus the Nightjars feed on thousands of insects which rise each night from the boggy grasses. If the additional Nitrogen in the soil from the emissions of the Incinerator cause excess nitrate food for woody plants such as scrub willow and wild Rhododendrons these will out-shade the grasses and the Nightjars will not get their food. Similarly, the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly relies upon the Devils Bit Scabious as a food plant for its Caterpillars, and this will also be endangered.

Therefore, why, if all this is true, is there no mention of the Incinerator in the Green Cornwall Policy? Could it be because they want you to stay ignorant? Or because they can’t answer the obvious question? This is – if the current overt Green Cornwall policy is being undermined by an Incinerator which nobody on the Council seems to have the will to stop, why spend more money
we cannot afford, instead of cutting adult care, public toilets and road maintenance?

When is a home not a home?

14 Jun

There is no doubt that one of the biggest political talking points in Cornwall concerns “Second Homes”. These vary between a little cottage in the country that an urban family uses as a bolt hole at weekends and plan to retire to, and a massive £1m plus mansion with river mooring. The spread of second homes varies, but Cornwall has more than any other part of the UK, and density is thought to be in the range of 10% to 70% of the houses in some villages having no permanent residents.

 

What often goes unseen is the damage to the community that second homes cause. I get out and about in Cornwall on a daily basis and talk to local people. Some of the things that have been mentioned to me are as follows:

 

  • Lack of services because there are not enough people in the winter-time to justify opening, (Post Office, Pub, School, Shop, Small Business etc.)
  • Certain services are grouped further away and require transport to reach them, (Doctor’s Surgery, Dentist, Bank etc)
  • Some shops are only open during the summer and sell beach wear and low grade consumable items. They are left locked up during the winter
  • There is no community support, one lady said she might collapse and never be found because she has no neighbours, another said she was a full time carer and she had nobody to watch her husband, who has dementia, while she went to the shop.
  • There are no more flower shows and garden fetes like there used to be because the stalwarts of the village who organised them have moved.
  • When certain work has to be done by people such as the Water Board, they need to consult with the population if the road is to be closed. One very popular sea-side village needed a new sewer laid and this would have shut off a lot of the centre. The Utility could only contact 9% of the population in October.

 

Other problems relate to the ageing population. The second homes are often bought with a view to using them full time on retirement. Consequently there are already the normal cohort of residents who have lived there all their lives and are now growing old, plus the influx of elderly people coming to take up residence in their second home. The other angle on this demographic is that there is a similar decline in the number of young people. Newly married couples cannot afford the house prices. This is because the house prices have been inflated by demand, plus the fact that the people buying them as second homes are either able to mortgage their other property, or are holding down a very well paid job in the City.

 

A fact that took me by surprise is that although I knew that people have only one vote in a General Election, I didn’t realise that second home owners have two votes in Local Elections. This is presumably because as they have to pay Council Tax to the Local Authority there can be no taxation without representation. Therefore some Cornwall Councillors, with a small majority, are actually elected by two or three hundred voters who live hundreds of miles away from Cornwall.

 

So what to do? Questions have been asked in Parliament regarding bringing in  Change of Use legislation under the Town & Country Planning Act. This would mean a reclassification from Use Class C3 Dwellinghouses to B1 Small Business in a Residential Area if it could be proven that the owner of the property was renting it to others. If not, to reclassify the house as Sui Generis as this is a “catch-all” term for properties that do not fall into the other Use Classes. The latest situation is that the Government has refused to take any action, believing that the charging of Council Tax will be sufficient to control the problem. A slightly milder approach might be to use a By-law to cause second homes to be registered, because we do not know how many there are. Once registered it might then be possible to impose planning conditions such as provision of off-road parking. However, any such measures could be circumvented. This problem is now too big for half measures and requires the combined action of all political parties to prevent a disaster for Cornwall.

 

 

What don’t they understand about the word WRONG?

10 Jun

As you may know. Cornwall Council seem determined to push ahead with a 240,000 tonnes per year mass burn incinerator at St. Dennis. The idea originated many years ago, and the contract was finally signed in 2006, and the planning permission was applied for in 2008. The final act of the Liberal Administration before the Old County Council became a Unitary Authority, was to refuse permission.

After a lengthy Public Inquiry and several High Court Actions, the new Tory/Independent Authority, changed their minds and went ahead with the scheme. At the last election in May, there was much talk of a new Council seeing things differently, and now the Coalition is Independent/Liberal Democrat in make up. However, there seems to be no change in attitude.

In the meantime, the biggest waste consultancy in Europe, Eunomia, has issued a report commissioned by a local group called Cornwall Waste Forum. This report has carried out analysis on all the figures and says that the Waste Contract is outdated, not value for money and not fit for purpose. The Local Government Association has also published a Waste Review. This indicates that the most sensible way for Local Authorities to deal with waste is by minimization followed by Sort/Recycle/Anaerobic Digestion. They explain that the value obtained from recycling will pay for the collection and treatment of the biodegradable fraction. The money saved will be equivalent to £20 million per year at a time when the Council says they will have to cut front line services because there is no money.

Then to cap it all, this week Janis Potcnik the EU Commissioner for waste, has announced new recommendations to follow on from the Resource Efficient Europe Platform. This will mean the review of three waste directives with the effect that recycling will have to reach 50% by 2020 and that no material which could be recycled or composted/digested shall be burned or landfill. Now he has added that the changes will also apply to Commercial and Industrial waste by the same date. The point here is that Cornwall Council have said all along that any shortfall in household waste will be supplied by business waste.The Council are showing no interest in changing their minds. It is very difficult to reason with them when all you have got to talk to is an Ostriches bum sticking up in the air.