Unitary Authority – the first five years of duplicity

15 Apr

Phew! I’m back in the saddle. It has taken me a few months to get back onto my soapbox. The hiatus was largely caused by storm damage to my house and the disruption of phone and Internet caused by various trees and wind damage in the small Cornish lane where I live. I was off line and phone for most of the first two months of the year. It is amazing how I came to rely on the routine based round modern communication; it has taken me almost another two months to get back on top of all the work that built up.

Well, now back, I am aroused by the anti-democratic goings on at Cornwall Council – yet again. The collective Council slogan is that they are a “transparent” Authority. It always seemed to me that the jewel in the crown of open and transparent democracy was the built in ability for members of the public to make their way to Truro and sit at the back of any Committee and if they wished, to submit a question for answer. The same was also true of the full Council meetings. Even this system was far from perfect, in as much as the questions had to be in three days in advance, consist of less than fifty words, and no member of the public was allowed more than two questions per year.

However flawed we thought the system was under the Conservatives lead by Rottweiler Robertson, it is now proving a great deal worse under the Lib-Dem Independent hotch potch . The Committees, now called PACs (Portfolio Advisory Committees), meet less frequently, usually every two months, and it has become the norm for the members of the PACs to conduct business through informal meetings. These informal meetings are held in private, with the public excluded, and the minutes are not circulated. While no formal motions or decisions can be discussed at these meetings, they form an ideal platform for the non-elected Council Officers to exert their control over the Members and disseminate the latest stitched up figures. This prevents the more astute members of the public from questioning data supplied in reports and pointing out the discrepancies.

A classic case in point is the recycling regime, subject to a report to an informal PAC meeting. I have no idea what was said, but I have heard a rumour that it concerned the withdrawal of a long awaited decision to start collecting mixed plastic for recycling. Those of you keen on saving the planet will know how important it is to remove all the other plastic, in addition to bottles, from black bag waste. We have been told that the new collection would take place for about the last two to three years. We were even told that, due to the brilliant way the collection contract had been engineered by the super officer staff at the Council, there would be no additional cost as this had been factored into the contract. Rumour has it that the collection has now been ditched – due to additional cost!

While on the subject of recycling and duplicity, I think we should celebrate the glorious fist five years of the Unitary Authority as blazoned across the pages of the West Briton. I am currently working my way through a consultation document for The House of Commons Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, with regard to waste policy. One of the questions for comment was: “What chance is there that the UK will meet the target of 50% recycling by 2020?” I checked on the official DEFRA web-site and the trade league table drawn up by letsrecycle.com to see how Cornwall had been doing over the past five years. The figures published are broken down into sections, and the one for comparison to the “50% by 2020” figure is called Total Recycling. The figures for Cornwall are: 2009 – 36.23% 2010 – 36.87% 2011 – 36.00% 2012 – 33.80% 2013 – 33.88%.

The really shocking feature of these figures is that this represents total recycling, and includes garden waste and recycling taken to HWRCs. The actual figure for separated recycling left out by households in 2013 is only 11% ! However, back at Lys Kernow, the officers have been supplying their own figures to the members for recycling and are regularly giving figures in the low forties, in other words ten percent above the true figure. When challenged on this, (by me in a public question), the answer was given that the figure would be checked and I would be informed of the reason why there was a difference. The answer when given, (and not circulated to the members who were given the original figure), was that there were differences in the method by which DEFRA and the Council calculated their figures. ”Errr. One for you – two for me?” As DEFRA are responsible for the mandatory 50% target, I would suggest that the DEFRA figures are the correct ones.

In the meantime they are sinking more rapidly into the mire as they play with our Council Tax, and run out of excuses. They used to blame everything on junior members of staff, but now they have sacked them all. I understand that there is a recorded message on the switchboard “If you wish to speak to the caretaker’s dog, press one, if you wish to speak to anybody else, abandon hope”

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