Archive | September, 2013

Who is being fooled?

29 Sep

It is that time of year again: The Party Conference season.

The Politicians pull rabbits out of hats and present them to the public, in the hope that the juiciest rabbits will attract us to vote for them. But who is being fooled? Are the electorate stupid enough to believe in these promises? Or are the Politicians stupid in thinking that we will fall for it?

An obvious example is the Conservative pledge to give tax breaks to married couples, (because apparently the Conservative party believes in the moral value of marriage so much that nobody in the Tory ranks has ever been unfaithful or had a divorce). The way that this policy is supposed to work is that if one partner of a married couple pays tax, and the other one doesn’t, then part of the higher earners tax can be transferred to replace the tax allowance of the other one.

On a Radio programme concerning this, a Conservative Member of Parliament was holding forth on what the Tories had done for tax payers. They have raised the tax threshold so that a large percentage of the population are not required to pay tax. But hang on, if they don’t pay tax it cannot be transferred to the other partner can it? Similarly if both partners are high earners, then there is no point in transferring it either. If you examine this carefully, the only married couples who it would benefit are those where one partner stays home and doesn’t pay tax, and the other one is a high tax payer. This sounds like the typical Tory couple from the Shires to me. It certainly wouldn’t be any benefit to the average Cornish working class couple who probably have minimum wage jobs which are below the tax threshold.

Next we come to HS2. This is going to be of such great benefit to the financial structure of the North of England, that Billions can be spent on it, instead of improving the rail network of the rest of the UK (including the Paddington Penzance service which hasn’t had any investment for years). It will apparently mean that prosperity will blossom in Manchester because the train gets there a few minutes quicker. One look at the situation will tell you that the main benefit will be to London, because it will shorten the time in the other direction. The other great reason for ripping up miles of countryside is because it will cut down the traveling time and allow more time for work. Yes I will agree that most Tories would find it very difficult and inconvenient to lug a block of granite and a hammer and chisel onto a train so that they can work in the First Class. I think the rest of us have realised that you can plug laptops into the power sockets under the seats.

Again, much emphasis has been placed on “The right to buy”. Apparently, the Government will assist first time buyers with mortgages up to £600,000. In Blackburn you could probably buy a whole street for that, but it wouldn’t matter because people don’t want to buy houses in Blackburn, they want to buy and build them all over Cornwall. If as predicted, this policy causes a hike in house prices, a converted redundant public toilet in Cornwall will cost more than £600,000, while you couldn’t give houses away where people don’t want to live.

About the only policy that caused a ripple at the Labour Party Conference was the suggested freeze on fuel prices. The Utilities threw up their hands and threatened not to invest in new generation and made comments about the lights going out, despite all continuing to declare highly increased profits. While Labour and the Utilities are posturing and pushing each other to the brink, the Saudis and the Russians just shrug and pump their oil and gas somewhere else. Energy security has not been on the agenda for a long time. Unless the UK is able to produce its own energy, price hikes and shortages will be a fact of life. Alex Salmond has got the right idea, a separate grid for Scotland powered by 100% renewables and then any energy left over, (North Sea Oil etc) export to the England at a high price. I have become so inured to the apathy of Cornwall Council that it came as a shock to learn that the Council are considering a Smart Grid for Cornwall. This will only work if money is available to set it up, and the tariff paid to wind turbine developers is reduced so that excess generation can be sold onto the grid at a profit to Cornwall, not to the landowners pockets.

Lastly, UKIP: I am quite pleased with that phrase! Well this week we have heard that Pall Engineering at Redruth is likely to close because the factory is being relocated to Eastern Europe where wages are much lower. George Eustace MP has been running around like an electric hare trying to get other Engineering firms to apply to Europe for a grant to expand so that they can take over either the factory or the redundant Pall workers. While he is on the trail, I wonder if he can find time to call on UKIP Councillors and supporters in Cornwall and ask them where the money is going to come from if we pull out of Europe. He might also ask at the same time what the UKIP policy is on Bedroom Tax, NHS, Nuclear Power and a few other things that nobody seems to know. We are, however, quite clear about the UKIP policy on Bongo Bongo Land, cleaning behind the fridge, and hitting reporters on the head with rolled conference notes.

In any case, the only National Party Conference that is really relevant to the people of Cornwall occurs on 16th November at County Hall (Lys Kernow). The Mebyon Kernow Conference of course.

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Bus stop – Wet day

23 Sep

I am getting really fed up with central Government being unable to get their head round what is happening in places like Cornwall. Just on the off chance that somebody from Westminster may hit upon what I am writing I will spell it out nice and clearly for them.

Cornwall is a long thin peninsular, and historically was composed of a series of small settlements either built to the side of the central granite ridge, at the head or mouth of short rivers, or out in the middle of the moor. Therefore these settlements were isolated. At various times during the past, when goods and materials either came or went form Cornwall, they often did so by sea or by a track along the spine road that is now the A30. All the little settlements fed into the ports or the spine road by cart tracks.

Now that much of the income of the Cornish is via the tourist industry or the export of food items, easy transport for people and goods is essential for the Cornish economy. Not only that but the tourist attractions and small manufacturing businesses need people to run them. They often cannot afford to live in the places where they work. Similarly it is well known that Cornwall has about the lowest wages in the UK and consequently the minimum wage workers cannot afford to buy and run a car. In recent years the mild climate has caused a considerable number of elderly people to come to Cornwall to retire. Quite a lot of them are now too old to drive, but still want to be independent and do their own shopping. They also have a greater need than most to access the Post Office, the Doctor’s surgery and the Hospital.

The one thing that all of this requires is a decent reliable and inexpensive Public Transport System. So what do the Government do? Cut the subsidy for buses. Now it just so happens that the arithmetic of fare subsidy, benefits routes where there are short distances between stops, (because it is based on a percentage of the full fare). It also benefits routes where as well as a number of passengers on bus passes, there are a considerable number paying the full fare to make it economical for the bus company. Both of these scenarios apply in London. But they do not apply in Cornwall.

As we have recently seen, the result of cutting the subsidy is that bus operators do not want to tender for routes where they will not make a profit from customers paying the full fare. The profitable routes are usually those running into Truro or Camborne, and this means that the ones being axed are the really rural ones such as Penwith and North Cornwall. Here there is no alternative and people are now stranded in their own village.

There is an answer to this. Cornwall Council should take over as the Transport Authority. This would mean that they were in overall charge of the routes, timetables, fare policies and subsidy allocation. There would be no independent operators competing for the same route or suddenly altering timetables or stops, What would be sub-contracted would be the provision and maintenance of buses and the supply of drivers. Before everybody throws up their hands and says it won’t work, just pause for a moment and consider the Threemilestone to Truro Park and Ride scheme. This is probably the most efficient, clean, well maintained and on time bus service in Cornwall. It is run by Cornwall Council on exactly the model I have described.