Does Cornwall really have a budget crisis?

14 Dec

Every time you open a paper of listen to the local news, you hear how services are being cut to save money for the cash strapped Local Authority.
I cannot help feeling there must be some kind of political choice being exercised over what is cut and what is not.

Recently, I have heard that Cornwall Council are going to withdraw the service for spraying weeds sprouting through the pavements and paths. This is now going to be down to Parish and Town Councils. In most cases it has been suggested that the local contractor responsible for grass cutting in the Parish takes on the weed control, provided they have suitable training. However, nobody is going to perform this additional duty for free, and so the cost will be met from the Parish precept or rate. In other words the public will have to dip into their pocket for extra payment.

There are areas of Cornwall Council expenditure where it is not quite so easy to turn off the tap. These include duties performed by so called “arms length” bodies, who provide out sourced services. They rely on their income from contracts with Cornwall Council. One of these bodies is Cormac.

Now for some reason, it would appear that more work has to be found for Cormac employees. It cannot be that there are no pot holes to fill or roads to resurface, it might be that Tarmac is difficult to work in the cold weather, or that the budget for road work has been spent. Therefore somebody has had to sit down and dream up something else to keep Cormac workers employed.

The thing that they have come up with concerns parking, or rather no parking. It turns out that if you have a stretch of yellow lines, parking regulations cannot be enforced unless you display a sign saying how parking is restricted.
Some of you who have spent a quiet off-season day at Poly Joke, or West Pentire, or a relaxing pint at the Bowgie, will know the narrow road leading from Crantock village to the headland car park. This stretch of about three quarters of a mile has yellow lines either side, and is in any case too narrow to park on, or traffic would be unable to pass.

In recent days, without any reference to local people or the Parish Council, Cormac have erected 57 two metre metal posts either side of this stretch of road with plates at the top that state that parking is restricted April to September. This unfortunately infers that parking is allowed at other times. This is a very scenic area and these poles are hideous.

Therefore when it comes to spending money, green weeds no – metal weeds yes.

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Keep warm this winter – burn a few coalition manifestos

2 Dec

The Coalition’s latest latest pronouncements on energy price rises is a sham, and once again will cause Cornwall to suffer more than any other part of the UK.

The latest statements by Coalition apologists indicate that the massive profits of the energy companies will not be affected at all by the ruse dreamed up to deflect the flack caused by the predicted price hike of £170 per year for the average householder. Under the new scheme the Government will not be forcing the energy companies to reduce their prices, but will be funding the reduction by a hit on the taxpayers from general income tax.

One might be forgiven for thinking that as we have very few high earners in Cornwall, this would be a benefit to us, City rich kids paying our bills. Not a bit of it! The effect on the taxpayer is being softened by adjustments to the “Green Levy”. The part of this fund that will be altered, is the part that provides money for the insulation of homes occupied by the poor and disabled. The project won’t be stopped, just slowed so that the cost can be spread over a longer period. The part of it that will be put right to the back of the queue, or so they have stated, is the payment for the biggest cost improvement, that where property has a solid wall without a cavity.

As you might have guessed, over 50% of Cornwall’s housing stock falls into this category. This is mainly because of poor build quality in days gone by, the age of the housing stock, and the number of historic and listed buildings with cob walls or similar structure.

The reason given by the Government for not reducing the profits of the energy companies is because they are supposed to use a proportion of this for improving the infrastructure. If you consider the means of heating an average room, electricity is twice as expensive as the cheapest, and oil is a third as expensive but rising. The cheapest is gas. There is no high-pressure gas main in Cornwall, and less than 50% of houses are on any sort of gas supply.

Never mind, cuddle up to an MK member to keep warm, nobody else will do the trick!

GAIA Global Day of Action

9 Nov

I would like to give a big thank you to everybody who supported the Global Day of Action against Incineration and for Alternatives. There were a number of us picketing and lobbying at County Hall, and it got quite fiesty at times. We know one thing for certain, The Leader and the Portfolio Holder are not going to listen even if they could save £20 million a year to spend preventing service cuts. I would also like to thank those who stopped and engaged with me on Lemon Quay despite the inclement weather.

We also had a good crowd at Kingsley Village to see the Jeremy Irons film trashed, including some Cornwall Councillors. Perhaps those Councillors who refused our invitation might like to see the same film at Truro Cathedral this Friday which might not only help their souls, but also their PR ratings.

Meanwhile, the Health Protection Agency has stated that despite their position that “Incinerators are not a significant risk to public health”. they are funding a study by Imperial College and Kings College London, into links between Incinerators and health issues including infant deaths. Obviosuly the data will be collected from existing Incinerators, but are unlikely to include the one on the Isles of Scilly because they are only going to consider “Areas with good data on congenital anomalies (that) are those with a high quality register”, which doesn’t include Cornwall.
Incidentally the IoS Incinerator was found to emit 65 time the permitted amount of poisonous toxic dioxins, despite only being tested once every six months on days when the operators had been forewarned that a test would take place.

You may not be surprised to hear that a Freedom of Information request to Cornwall Council has revealed that the Council will not do a background check on the health of people in the St. Dennis area before the Incinerator is built and they will not be monitoring the health of people in the area once it is operational (if they can find anything to burn in it!). They do however inform us that they have a”Duty of Care to all residents of Cornwall”. It is difficult to make the noise of a raspberry in print!

A big black hole

25 Oct

OK, the gloves are off. What is going on at County Hall? Groups of people in earnest conversation, looks more like the departure lounge at Heathrow. Bits of overheard conversation about “big black holes” and “If you think it is bad now, just wait a bit” make me think it is to do with The Budget.

If it is to do with the inability of Cornwall Council to provide us with the services that we have paid for via Council Tax, then it is about time we got some answers. If things are as desperate as we are told, then it is no good messing about with the “tea money”, we have to start looking at the big items of expenditure. One of the biggest is the waste contract, coming in at just under half a billion, and as this has to be paid off over a number of years, things are going to get a lot worse. Something is very wrong here.

At a very simplistic level, we pay our Council Tax to have our waste collected and treated. Most people cling to the ideas of fifty years ago when “waste” was something nasty, and you were lucky that those nice people came and took it away. Therefore you expect to pay for it. However, times have moved on, and waste is now a resource and a commodity that is worth money. The average value of one tonne of recycling is about £36 although some materials are worth a lot more. If you take your old car to the scrap man, you expect to get some money for it. Well, you would expect the Council to get some money back for your recycling wouldn’t you? But, two thirds of the waste is currently put into black bags and not recycled, so you wouldn’t expect money for that would you? Well you would be wrong.

It so happens that due to the waste contract signed by the Council they have to pay somebody else to treat our waste. Therefore instead of getting £36 per tonne for our recycling, we have to pay Sita £56 per tonne to take it away to sell it. And that is not all. The black bag waste will soon be being used as fuel in an incinerator to generate electricity. The sale of the electricity is going to make money, so even the black bag waste is worth a lot of money.

Therefore, we are giving the Council our recycling and our black bags that are both worth money, and paying our Council Tax, and instead of this creating wealth for the Council to put into supplying services, they have to pay somebody else to take it away. You couldn’t make it up could you? So what happens when you confront the Council with these facts? You get an answer that is so obscure that it would make a magicians cloak look transparent. The Council say that as a result of making a present of all our valuable rubbish to Sita, those nice people have agreed to only charge us £500,000,000 for the contract! Otherwise it would have been more!

When you ask exactly how much we are being let off paying, the answer is top secret and the public are not allowed to know. When asked where we can see the figures, again we are told we are not allowed to see the figures, but apparently it is such a bad deal we have to pay for it with our recycling, our rubbish and our Council Tax, and the Council still haven’t got enough money for the basic services.

Now if I had a son still living at home, and in a decent job, I’d ask for a contribution towards the house-keeping. If he said he was always broke and couldn’t pay, I’m afraid I would start looking for evidence of some sort of addiction that was sucking all his money away. The Council are addicted to these smooth talking salesmen who have got them hooked on out of house contracts with our money. If you ask them to stop they can’t, not because they would get cold turkey, but because the dealers have got better enforcers than the public. They are called expensive lawyers.

So what can we do? Well if it was my son I would physically keep him away from his supply. Therefore the answer is simple. Your rubbish belongs to you. If you don’t like the way the Council are dealing with it, give it, (or better still join with the rest of your community and sell it), to somebody else. This is the way that the system works in California where they have an 80% recycling rate. Rubbish is such a valuable commodity that recycling bins have to be chained down to stop them from being stolen. Wake up before we all go down a black hole.

Cornwall needs to be Proclaimed

23 Oct

This week I went to see the film “Sunshine on Leith”, an everyday story of Scottish Folk. It follows the trials and tribulations of a pretty ordinary family living in the “suburbs” of Edinburgh. It deals with some gritty subjects such as marital infidelity, life changing injury from IEDs, humiliation in public, heart attacks etc, but it does it in a totally unexpected way.

The film genre is what one might call Mac Bollywood. You may have seen these Indian epics where a whole street full of ladies in sari’s suddenly open umbrellas and break into an massive and complex dance routine, well imagine that outside the National Gallery of Scotland. Not only that, each time the plot has a twist, the characters break into song – always a song by the Proclaimers, hence the title of the film. The effect is unusual to say the least.

The most telling thing for me was the National pride of Scotland that showed through the film, not the chocolate box Scotland of Stags on moorland or Bagpipers in the mist, but the “in your face Jimmy” attitude of love of your fellows, whether in the Army, down the pub, at work or where ever.

The best example of this was when one of the girls in the story (who was the only English person), challenged her boyfriend as to what he would do if she decided to go home to her parents. He said “What go to England!!?? – No Way!” (He had just come back from Afghanistan so travel was nothing new to him!). The idea that “we are different and proud of it” shone through like a searchlight.

When the credits rolled it turned out that the film had been part funded by the Scottish Tourist Board. So here is the challenge – can we find a Cornish band with a big enough back catalogue to cover all the scenarios in a drama? Can we find enough talent in Cornwall to act and produce it? More to the point can we find enough money to make it? Do we have the heart to underline our own cultural destiny in some more modern way than King Arthur and Tin Mining?
Where is the pride in being Cornish? Let us feel it and show it to the world.

Hey! I’m a minority

4 Oct

Isn’t Politics a messy business? Yesterday I went to a presentation/workshop hosted by Cornwall Council, but with the main speakers coming from a Government Office in London.
As we were nearing the end of the session we were asked to fill out a questionnaire to mark our satisfaction with the day. Most of us had just got to the bit where it asked: “Has the meeting today been satisfactory in dealing with issues of equality and diversity”, and then one of the Whitehall ladies started answering a question about grant money. There must have been some legal issue with differences in Scotland and Wales, because she said rather forcibly, “This only applies in England”. At this point the senior representative of the Cornwall Council delegation sprang to his feet and said with all seriousness, “I feel sure you will not mind me pointing out that it applies to Cornwall as well” Phew! That was close. He nearly got a minus score on his questionnaire!

In a similar, but bigger arena, an MP put his rather large foot in it yesterday concerning Ed Miliband’s father Ralph. When it was pointed out to the MP that Ralph Miliband had been a humanist Marxist at a time when such Philosophy was considered to be the modern approach to left wing politics, and did not mean that because he felt that representative democracy was not the right doctrine, that didn’t mean that he was anti-British. The MP retaliated by saying that Communism was a dirty ideology and had been responsible for killing millions of people. Hang on a minute! How many people did the great god capitalism kill in the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the atom bombing of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? All in the name of Democracy.

Why don’t politicians think before they make such statements? Possibly due to the fact that some Public Schools produce a lot of dross because they have to deal with all abilities across the range. It doesn’t matter which party you choose, (except MK of course), most of the top 25% are Public School boys who couldn’t do anything else except go into politics. If you look at behaviour in the House of Commons, it equates pretty well to a bunch of spoilt 14 –15 year olds.

Apart from being part of a minority, there was one very, very interesting thing I learned yesterday. A spokesperson from Democratic Services was talking about eligibility to vote in Cornwall with regard to second homes. The official line is that in order to vote in two places in local elections or referenda, the householder must prove that they spend a considerable amount of time in each residence. The ideal was obviously stated as being 50% in each. This status is questioned when the person applies to be put on the electoral register, but there is no check to see if they have answered truthfully. The reason for this was said to be lack of staff and money, but it was admitted that there were probably a “fair” number of people registered to vote who only spent a few weeks in Cornwall. A hint was given that some entries on the register would be re-checked. And more stringent interpretation of the rules applied in future.

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.