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Archives for August 2011

The news factory returns

Graham Smith | 07:03 UK time, Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Only a few more days to go. The summer holidays will be over, the kids back at school and normal service will be resumed at County Hall. This means members of the always-entertaining Miscellaneous Licensing Committee can get back to doing what they do best - debating the rights and wrongs of sex shops.

Proposals for a shop in Truro to deal in "personal products for adults" come back for consideration next Wednesday. A key part of the licensing process is the arrangement of any window displays.

One objector to the granting of a licence claims that such shops "arouse the interest of voyeurs and those given to depraved or licentious interests." Another points out that if you go upstairs on a double-decker bus and ride around Truro for long enough, you'll eventually drive past the shop and be level with the first-floor windows - and possibly be able to see everything.

No wonder August seemed so dull.

Senior Service en vacance?

Graham Smith | 06:20 UK time, Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Sheryll Murray on BBC Radio Cornwall (mp3)

South East Cornwall MP Sheryll Murray on BBC Radio Cornwall last week: "....the Royal Navy broke up for their summer holidays..."

Something to hide?

Graham Smith | 12:00 UK time, Thursday, 25 August 2011

Much discussion on Cornwall Council's backbenches about the psychology of beards. I'm grateful to The Chronicle of Higher Education for this:
"A recent study in the Journal of Marketing Communications apparently found that men with beards were deemed more credible than those who were clean-shaven. The study showed participants pictures of men endorsing certain products. In some photos, the men were clean-shaven. In others, the same men had beards. Participants thought the men with beards had greater expertise and were significantly more trustworthy when they were endorsing products like cell phones and toothpaste. But, oddly, men with beards were slightly less effective than smooth-cheeked fellows in underwear advertisements."

Date set for incinerator legal challenge

Graham Smith | 12:58 UK time, Monday, 22 August 2011

Sometime in the week beginning 10th October, listed for one day.
STOP PRESS: Now two days, October 11 and 12.

Grub first, then ethics

Graham Smith | 14:05 UK time, Sunday, 21 August 2011

A shame that the agenda for Tuesday's Review of Ethical Standards Sub Committee does not include the draft recommendations on conduct and sanctions. Time to introduce new measures (such as a published register?) to deal with councillors who are late with their council tax payments?

Too young to know?

Graham Smith | 11:45 UK time, Sunday, 21 August 2011

Scratching away at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust appeal for 11-year-olds to boost its Foundation Trust membership drive, I learn that the regulator, Monitor, has this to say in its Guide for Applicants:

"1. A minimum age to be appointed as a governor should be included in the constitution, being at least 16 at the closing date for nominations.
2. Monitor will not specify a minimum age for members. It is for the trust to justify the age.
However, it should be noted that it is not permissible, pursuant to the 2006 Act to
establish lesser categories of membership, such as associate membership."
I was interested to note that the Cornwall Partnership Foundation Trust requires its members to be at least 14-years-old. And I was relieved to discover that Monitor requires all governors to maintain a register of interests. But I'm afraid I'm still none the wiser about how or why membership affords greater influence over hospital management - or indeed anything else - than that enjoyed by any other citizen.

Tories on top

Graham Smith | 10:09 UK time, Friday, 19 August 2011

Last night's by-election results:

Newquay Town Council (North Ward):

Phil Ley ( Liberal Democrats) 388
Lisa Shuttlewood (Conservative Party) 444

Torpoint Town Council
John Robert Campbell (The Conservative Party) 351
Joanne Frances Hunt 150

Missing the bus

Graham Smith | 11:42 UK time, Thursday, 18 August 2011

More than a year ago this blog drew attention to the threat facing rural bus routes. Later, while reporting the Star Chamber budget deliberations, I wrote:

"I have yet to find one single back-bench councillor who thinks it's a good idea to keep the £46,000 presence at the Royal Cornwall Show rather than make a similar size cut in rural bus subsidies - and yet this is precisely the choice recommended by the 10-member council Cabinet."
Tomorrow County Hall hosts a public meeting to debate the bus issues. Hear all about it on BBC Radio Cornwall's Breakfast programme tomorrow morning.

Show a little trust

Graham Smith | 15:13 UK time, Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Clearly those who think the yoof of today have nothing better to do than riot should have asked the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust for a breakdown of those who have already volunteered to become Foundation Trust members:

11 year olds - 3 members
12 year olds - 21 members
13 year olds - 10 members
14 year olds - 15 members
15 year olds - 26 members
16 year olds - 11 members

These numbers will of course change once the membership drive gets into top gear. The Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust assures me that all of these children were "recruited" in Cornwall, although there is no residential qualification for membership. Indeed, there are very few reasons why anyone could not become a member. "A person may not become or continue as a Member of the Trust if:

- he is under 11 years of age at the date of his application or invitation to become a Member (as the case may be);

- he has demonstrated aggressive or violent behaviour (such as verbal assault, physical assault, violence or harassment) at any NHS hospital, NHS premises or NHS establishment against any of the Applicant Trust's (or as the case may be) the Trust's employees or other persons who exercise functions for the purposes of the Trust whether or not in circumstances leading to his removal or exclusion from any NHS hospital, premises or establishment;

- or he has been dismissed (otherwise than by reason of redundancy or ill-health) from a position of employment with the Trust."

If you spot benefits of membership which I've so far been been unable to grasp, please feel free to comment...

From the legal department

Graham Smith | 14:01 UK time, Wednesday, 17 August 2011

" Cornwall Council has a procedure in place whereby the Monitoring Officer is notified if any councillor could be in breach of section 106 of the Local Government Finance Act 1992 due to non-payment of council tax. This enables the Monitoring Officer to advise the Member of his responsibilities under that section. In addition at the outset of any meeting of the Council where the business to be transacted comes within the provisions of section 106, general advice regarding Member responsibilities is provided in writing and verbally by the Chairman or the Monitoring Officer. The Council is confident, therefore, that no Member has committed an offence under this legislation."

Who's next?

Graham Smith | 09:27 UK time, Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Cornwall councillor Andrew Wallis confesses. Only 15 to go.

Transparency champion Bob says naming late tax payers is "a difficult decision"

Graham Smith | 17:06 UK time, Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Independent Cornwall councillor Bob Egerton, defender of all things to do with openness and transparency at County Hall, tells me that (a) he pays his council tax on time and (b) he has sympathy for those officials who had to decide whether or not to name any or all of the 17 councillors who were late with their payments over the past two years. "It's a difficult decision," he said. "While I don't condone anyone for being late with their council tax payment, I don't know their personal financial circumstances or what the reason might be. It's not obvious whether the officers should have named and shamed the members or not. I hope the Information Commission can make a speedy recommendation on this as it would help us all know where we stand in future."

Let those without sin cast the first stone

Graham Smith | 10:34 UK time, Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Full marks to Bodmin councillor Ann Kerridge, for allowing me to take her confession about her late payment of council tax:

"I am one of the one in seven. If I paid by direct debit I wouldn't be. However I made a choice quite a long time ago to pay in person at my local post office so they get a little revenue. One month I confess to forgetting, got a CC letter and paid almost immediately."
I think Ann is demonstrating commendable wisdom here, not least because she's a front bencher who speaks (for the Lib Dems) on finance issues. Within County Hall there are sheets of paper with the names of 17 late-payers. Some councillors have copies and some do not. This is unfair. While the council's reason for not releasing the information to everyone might well be motivated by a bureaucratic desire to observe the Data Protection Act, it defies every known law of political common sense.

PS: Before anyone asks, can I also confess to having once been late with the return of some library books.

Fame or shame?

Graham Smith | 08:31 UK time, Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Three Cornwall councillors deserve credit for volunteering the fact that they HAVE paid their council tax on time: Chris Ridgers, Scott Mann and Steve Double. Well done chaps. That still leaves 103 other members who have also paid their council tax on time, but whose status remains unclear.

An easier way to do this would be for the 17 late-payers to volunteer their identities. I'm hoping for guidance from the Information Commissioner, as to whether Cornwall Council should name the member who had to be taken to court before payment could be forced, later today.

Did you pay your council tax on time?

Graham Smith | 10:49 UK time, Sunday, 14 August 2011

The warmest congratulations to The Falmouth Packet for its scoop about how one in seven Cornwall councillors failed to pay their council tax on time. Over the past two years, no fewer than 17 elected members needed reminders before paying their bills. One had to be threatened with court action.

The Information Commission is now considering whether the council should identify those responsible for wasting officer-time to recover more than £5,000 in unpaid taxes. The council claims it has obligations under the Data Protection Act to keep the names secret.

There are several issues here. Should councillors be treated any differently to ordinary citizens, who would not normally be named if they were simply late with their payments? Fourteen of the councillors needed a second reminder letter. Again, ordinary citizens would not normally be named.

The identity of the councillor who had to be dragged to court in order to extract payment is already in the public domain, although it will be difficult to find that name without the resources to trawl through thousands of official records. I would be surprised if, in the case of this individual, the Information Commission does not rule against the council and in favour of disclosure.

The Packet's story naturally prompts further questions. Are any of the 17 late-payers members of the council's Cabinet? Was it fair of the council to release this partial information, potentially damaging the reputations of 106 members who diligently paid their tax bills on time?

The council employs more than 19,000 people and I'd be amazed if all of them paid their tax bills on time - but who should be named and who should be treated like "ordinary citizens?" Those earning more than £50,000 a year? £80,000?

Within County Hall, lists are circulating which contain the names of all 17 late-paying councillors. Who should see these lists and who should not? Why does the Data Protection Act allow some councillors to know which of their colleagues are behind with payments, while others are denied this information?

There is a long-held convention in political life that people who seek election to positions of power and influence are not "ordinary citizens." Once elected, they do have to answer to a higher God. Should they seek re-election, you can rest assured that their political opponents will find a way of publishing the information.

So here's an opportunity for all members of Cornwall Council to clarify the situation and put the record straight. If you are one of the 106 members of the council who paid your tax on time, you can declare it publicly on this blog.

Lost in translation?

Graham Smith | 10:25 UK time, Sunday, 14 August 2011

Cornwall Council tells me it has no record of any formal policy decision to change the name of "County Hall" to "Cornwall Hall" and that therefore the entry in Wikipedia must be in error. Possibly. The minutes of Bewnans Kernow from 4th October 2010 include this extract:

"A letter had been sent from the Secretary to the CEO of Cornwall Council in support of a name change for County Hall to Lys Kernow. It was noted that the sign at the entrance to Lys Kernow was now bilingual, even though the words are not a true translation. Members will be encouraged to use the Cornish version in correspondence and references."
An interesting concept - "bilingual" but "not a true translation." The possibilities are endless.

Compared with Philip, Kevin is a bargain

Graham Smith | 19:22 UK time, Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Isles of Scilly Council chief executive Philip Hygate is paid about £74,000 a year, less than half the annual £200,000 salary of Cornwall Council chief Kevin Lavery. Population of the Isles of Scilly: 2,153. Population of Cornwall: 535,000. Kevin therefore costs 37 pence per person. Philip costs £34.29 per person.

Wikipedia surely not wrong?

Graham Smith | 17:46 UK time, Wednesday, 10 August 2011

I don't remember this, but it's Cornwall Councill's entry in Wikipedia, and if it's in Wikipedia it must be true:

Name changes - On the creation of the new unitary authority it was decided that the name of the council would be changed from Cornwall County Council to Cornwall Council (Konsel Kernow). It has also been decided by the council to change the name of their meeting place from New County Hall to Lys Kernow (Cornwall Hall) so as to not use the term county

Someone should tell the council, whose website still insists on calling it County Hall.

Cornwall top for riots (once upon a time)

Graham Smith | 17:07 UK time, Wednesday, 10 August 2011

My thanks to Charlotte MacKenzie for this quote from Bernard Deacon:

"Bohstedt, quantifying the numbers of riots in the crisis decades of the 1790s and 1800s, found that the number of riots per 10,000 persons in Cornwall in this period was almost three times higher than in the most riot-prone parts of England - London, Nottinghamshire and Devon (Bohstedt, 1983, 239)."

Pursuit of the tortoises nears finish line

Graham Smith | 16:33 UK time, Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Cornwall Council tells me it is due to serve formal notice of its closure of Sticker's Tortoise Garden on 22nd September. The council insists the Tortoise Garden is a zoo and must have a licence. The council refuses to tell me how much officer-time (and cost to the taxpayer) has been spent on this issue and so, within 20 days, must now answer under Freedom of Information laws.

Stadium for Cornwall planning application goes in

Graham Smith | 16:01 UK time, Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Plans for a 10,000-seat stadium at Langarth Farm, Threemilestone, near Truro, have now been submitted formally to Cornwall Council. I wonder how many of those who have signed the petition in support of this £24 million project will also sign the inevitable petition opposed to the associated planning application, for a 1,500-dwelling housing estate?

A shameless appeal for votes

Graham Smith | 19:51 UK time, Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Total Politics Blog Awards for 2011 are now open for votes.
Just thought I'd mention it.

Cornwall's riots

Graham Smith | 19:21 UK time, Tuesday, 9 August 2011

No shortage of rioting in Cornish history: the Camborne riots of 1873, apparently started by a dispute over a village cricket match; the "Little Ireland" riots of 1882, again in Camborne, over the bullying of local Catholics and the Newlyn riots of 1896, over the ever-thorny issue of landing fish on Sundays. I believe there are earlier records of food riots in Cornwall, notably in Redruth.

Cornwall misses out on local TV

Graham Smith | 19:19 UK time, Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The government has today published this list of places where it is considering new Independent television franchises. Cornwall isn't on it. Plymouth and Barnstaple are the nearest.

Cornwall's anarchists slow to riot

Graham Smith | 16:05 UK time, Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Please don't take this as a sign of disappointment, but the Kernow Anarchist Network has not updated its website since 15th December. Possibly an internal dispute over whose turn it was?

London's Burning

Graham Smith | 12:23 UK time, Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Interesting that many of the London residents interviewed on the news appear to blame the recent rioting at least partly on an absence of police. How times change. Thirty years ago I found myself driving down Coldharbour Lane in Brixton, South London, on the eve of what developed into a pitched battle. Lord Scarman's subsequent report described the Metropolitan police as "an occupying army." Meanwhile, here in the 21st century, Devon & Cornwall police "monitor social networking sites" as their contribution to maintaining law and order. I gather an announcement is due shortly on how many officers are to be sent from Devon & Cornwall to help reclaim the streets. The overtime bill is going to be horrendous.

STOP PRESS: 25 Devon & Cornwall police sent to London "for several days."

Time to start counting our spoons?

Graham Smith | 20:26 UK time, Monday, 8 August 2011

When the fanfare of trumpets last month announced a transformation in the way Cornwall Council delivers services it seemed too good to be true: saving £10 million of taxpayers' money while protecting 3,000 existing council jobs. A miracle?

Now that we're starting to see the detail, it might be time to pause and consider. Next week's Audit Committee, warned of the "significant risks" inherent in this project, will be told of 50 posts "removed from the current restructure..."

The County Hall mantra for the past couple of years has been how Cornwall is to become a "commissioning council" which secures best value by "outsourcing" (the 21st century word for 1980s-style privatisation.) Maybe I'm just a cynical doom-monger who always thinks the worst, but might it not be a good idea to see what happens at Suffolk county council before the restructuring becomes irreversible?

Not telling the whole story

Graham Smith | 18:39 UK time, Monday, 8 August 2011

My not-totally-serious suggestion that Cornwall Council would soon be facing Freedom of Information questions about, er, Freedom of Information questions has come spookily true even faster than I thought. But it is indeed the case that without an FoI question, we would not know that when the council is hauled before the Information Commissioner to justify its refusal to release information required under FoI, it has a losing record of 8-1.

New car parking charges triumph

Graham Smith | 18:32 UK time, Monday, 8 August 2011

Revenue from Tregantle car park, near Torpoint, May 2010: £579
Revenue from Tregantle car park, near Torpoint, May 2011: £4.58

A despatch from the posh seats

Graham Smith | 17:36 UK time, Monday, 8 August 2011

First class train journeys 1 April 2009 - 31 March 2011:
Kevin Lavery - Chief Executive

23.04.09 York to London,1st class return, £199, Meeting with Treasury

21.10.09 Gatwick to Brighton, no class option £20.4 Solace Annual Conference

13.11.09 London to York, 1st class single £111.50 return from meeting with Department of children, Families and Schools (DCFS)

20.01.10 Truro to London 1st class return £180 Meeting at House of Commons

15.02.10 York/London/Truro 1st class singles £282.50 Meeting with DCFS in London

18.03.11 London to Truro 1st class single £189.50 return from Soft Market Testing

"First class travel has to be justified in individual cases based on the travel options available for a particular journey and the need for the Chief Executive to work during the journey."
Gill Steward - Head of Communities

2.12.10 London Paddington - St Austell - returning from a meeting in London about the development of Shared Services - £96

1.4.11 London Paddington - St Austell - returning from attending a Shared Services Forum with other Authorities - £114

"First class rail travel was arranged to enable the Director to work on the
journey back."
The following senior figures at Cornwall Council have made no claims for first class rail travel in the past two years: Paul Masters (Assistant Chief Executive), Kim Carey (Adult Social Care director), Michael Crich (Corporate Resources director), Tom Flanagan (Environment, Planning and Economy director), Trevor Doughty (Children, Schools and Families director), Alec Robertson (leader of the council) and Graeme Hicks (cabinet member.)

Too much information?

Graham Smith | 15:51 UK time, Friday, 5 August 2011

Was there ever any doubt that some Freedom of Information requests are politically-motivated? Cornwall Council has today answered (at a cost to the taxpayer of about £150) a question which could surely have been dealt with by other means: the details of allowances claimed annually by three individual Liberal Democrat councillors in Penzance. Coming soon - FoI questions to find out who is asking FoI questions. Yawn.

I feel that old age coming on

Graham Smith | 14:55 UK time, Friday, 5 August 2011

I know this is an old story but the fine detail had previously escaped me: people in some parts of Cornwall can expect to live longer than others. According to the Office for National Statistics, by the year 2033, folk in the former Caradon, North Cornwall and Penwith districts can expect to live up to eight years more than the UK national average. In the former Kerrier, Carrick and Restormel districts its closer to four years more. If you don't want to hang around too long, try moving to Glasgow where the additional life expectancy by 2033 is a mere 0.1 year, or (nearly) 37 days.

Life is a sum of all your choices

Graham Smith | 16:50 UK time, Thursday, 4 August 2011

Well done Cornwall Council, whose members will next week be told:

"For the 2011/12 school year, 5125 on-time applications were received for a place in secondary school. 5096 of these (99.4%) were offered a place in their first preference school. This meant Cornwall was ranked second of all local authorities in England for pupils being offered a place in their first preference secondary school. Five appeals were lodged by parents where pupils had been refused a place; two were upheld and the remaining three refused."
Interestingly the story is not so good for Cornwall's primary schools, where more than 600 parents failed to get their applications in on time and only 92% have got the school of their choice.

A suitable case for treatment

Graham Smith | 09:44 UK time, Thursday, 4 August 2011

Anyone know where I can find out more about the NHS treatment of fee-paying private patients in Cornwall? The Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust is clearly keen on this line of work, advertising on its website. Does anyone else spot any irony in this bit: -

"Our pricing policy is based on the principle that it should be simple, open and fair. Our prices are also highly competitive. We never forget that the main reason we are here is to provide all our patients with the best possible treatment and care. All prices are quoted inclusive of VAT."
All our patients?

A poor relation?

Graham Smith | 17:22 UK time, Wednesday, 3 August 2011

There's growing concern in Camelford that the town's leisure centre might be excluded from the "Cornish family" of leisure services included in the portfolio about to be handed over to a charitable trust. Cornwall Council tells me:

"The trust is still in the process of being established. A final decision on whether Camelford Leisure Centre would be included in the trust has not yet been taken."
Looks like the celebrations which accompanied December's £50,000 tide-over from County Hall might have been premature.

Council by-elections tell an interesting story

Graham Smith | 11:15 UK time, Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Full marks to Cornwall Councillor Jude Robinson for crunching the numbers - there's nothing quite like election results (as opposed to opinion polls) to tell us which way the wind is blowing. Of course, local council by-elections are full of anomalies, such as bizarre local issues, candidates known better for personality than policy etc, but give me results rather than forecasts any day. The numbers don't add up to 100% because not all parties (including Independents) contested every by-election, but tell us the average vote share when candidates entered the field.

Independents: 40%
Labour 36%
Conservatives 34%
Lib Dems 24%
Greens 18%
Mebyon Kernow 11%

11-year-olds invited to run Cornwall's hospitals

Graham Smith | 09:38 UK time, Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Listeners to this morning's Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Cornwall will have heard the management of the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust telling us it faces a challenge "of Everest proportions" to achieve its goal of Foundation status, which would afford it greater autonomy on budgets, including the capacity to increase the number of fee-paying private patients treated at Cornwall's only large general hospital. The Trust's website includes this invitation to Cornwall's schoolchildren:

To become a Foundation Trust we need to sign-up lots of members. Anyone can be a member if they are aged 11 or over. Our members can vote for the Council of Governors or stand as a Governor. How involved you are is up to you. As a member you will:
* have a say in what we do
* be helping to keep our hospitals under local control
* receive invitations to free 'members only' events
* receive regular newsletters
* save money with the NHS discount scheme.
I'm really curious about the bit which says "helping to keep our hospitals under local control." Perhaps I'm missing something, but isn't the primary function of hospitals to heal the sick? So why does it matter so much about the personality of the management team? And will Foundation Trust members have more of a say in the running of our hospitals than non-members? I have asked the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust how many 11-year-olds have so far applied to become Foundation Trust members. Let's hope they belong to that cohort which got good SATS results.

Between a blog and a hard place

Graham Smith | 09:26 UK time, Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that in recent weeks I've been blogging far less than usual - and might be in search of an explanation. Back in June the BBC discovered a security issue with its blogging software which made it vulnerable to hacking. The "temporary" solution, still in place, is that only BBC computers can be used for writing BBC blogs. As this blog is written in my spare time, from home (and of course, for no extra pay) I was stuffed. My solution is to arrive at work earlier, and leave later. I hope your appreciation index will rise appropriately.

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