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Archives for September 2011

BBC Radio Devonwall?

Graham Smith | 09:48 UK time, Sunday, 25 September 2011

All I can say is that the Guardian seems to know more about this than I do.

The Magnificent Seven

Graham Smith | 19:21 UK time, Tuesday, 20 September 2011

from left, Dr John Lander, Nick Buckland OBE, Helen Newson, Kevin Baber, Jacquie Kessell, Michael Williams and Susan Bulley

Meet the seven people who comprise the board of Peninsula Community Health CIC, the not-for-profit, private, community interest company which from 1st October takes over responsibility for fourteen of Cornwall's community hospitals, district nurses, health visitors, speech and language therapists and minor injury units. Who owns Peninsula Community Health? It's a good question. At the moment, ownership rests with these seven - although not as shareholders. Kevin Baber told me recently that the intention is, eventually, to have a very large number of "members" drawn mainly from staff and patients' groups. Until then, I suspect, health unions will continue to express their fears that this whole NHS reorganisation is a slippery slope to privatisation.

Cornwall's councillor bloggers lead the way

Graham Smith | 18:26 UK time, Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Congratulations to Cornwall councillor Andrew Wallis, whose blog has shot up the Total Politics councillor rankings to number 6. Launceston's Alex Folkes is at number 7. Dick Cole and Jeremy Rowe are at 13 and 14 respectively. The Illogan blogger is at 16 and Labour's Jude Robinson at 27. That's six in the top 30. Well dones all round.

Cornwall to get tough on empty homes?

Graham Smith | 12:16 UK time, Monday, 19 September 2011

Compulsory purchase of empty homes (mp3)
Here is my un-edited interview with Cornwall Council cabinet member councillor Mark Kaczmarek, talking about using powers of compulsory purchase to deal with the county's 4,000 empty homes. I forgot to ask him if his (Conservative) cabinet colleagues agree with the idea...

Civic links

Graham Smith | 16:31 UK time, Thursday, 15 September 2011

Some time ago I asked Cornwall Council about the £509.94 spent on "gifts and hospitality" in pursuit of the chairman's civic duties. Here's the answer:

"The Chairman keeps a small stock of civic gifts that she gives to visitors to the Council. This is something that all Council Chairmen have done over the years, paid from the Chairman's budget. In her civic role the Chairman welcomes all sorts of people to County Hall, including visitors from foreign countries. Some give her a gift as a symbol of friendship; it is important, and polite, that she reciprocates. In April the Chairman ordered some pairs of St Piran flag cufflinks, made of Cornish tin from a local company, at a cost of £34 each (this price includes VAT and a discount from the supplier). 15 pairs were originally ordered, but five pairs were then returned - leaving the Council with 10 pairs."
So far six have been "awarded" to the governor and assistant governor of Austria, the secretary of the Royal Cornwall Show and three senior military officers. There are four pairs left.

Death and taxes

Graham Smith | 11:03 UK time, Thursday, 15 September 2011

Last month I asked the council:

"In June, the council spent £9,987.22 on the coroners' ledger for the removal of bodies. Can I find out how many of these were holidaymakers, and if there's a "re-charge" scheme to get the money back once families have been traced etc? Presumably in cases where there are no relatives, the taxpayer foots the bill."
And today I got the answer:
"The figure represents the removal of bodies by undertakers to the designated mortuary in cases of unexpected deaths. The bodies are removed for public health reasons. Some of these will be holidaymakers but the majority will be Cornish residents. We do not charge for the removal of the bodies of holiday makers or Cornish residents."

Coping with the cuts

Graham Smith | 10:25 UK time, Thursday, 15 September 2011

I suppose that if you are going to cut services to disabled people, it is better to cause as little pain as possible.

The think-tank Demos and charity Scope have combined to put together a map, showing how well/badly local councils are coping. Cornwall is ranked as "good" coming 11th out of 152. The Isles of Scilly is 43rd, Devon 55th and Plymouth 62nd.

I don't pretend to understand the methodology. But in general terms I can see that if you have a reduced amount of money, it is a good idea to spend it wisely. I'd welcome the observations of those in the front-line.

Update on the councillors who were late with their tax

Graham Smith | 16:17 UK time, Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Interesting that so far only two members of Cornwall Council have had the courage to "out" themselves as among the 17 who at one time or another over the past two years had to be pursued before paying their council tax.

Last week council leader Alec Robertson roundly condemned councillors who were late with their taxes, and agreed with the suggestion that a voluntary register of members who had paid on time would improve openness and transparency. That's not the same as saying that it's a good idea, or that he planned to introduce such a register. So after today's Cabinet meeting I asked him.

"No, I don't think it's a good idea and I wouldn't support it," he told me. "We've been advised that there are Data Protection issues and I'm taking that advice."

I have now had the council's formal, written, reasons for refusing to disclose the names:

"This information is exempt under section 40 (personal information) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as the information constitutes third party data. Section 40(2) provides that personal data about third parties is exempt information if one of the conditions set out in section 40(3) is satisfied. Under the FOI Act disclosure of this information would breach the fair processing principle contained in the Data Protection Act (DPA), where it would be unfair to that person."
The issue is now with the Information Commission.

There is more joy in heaven...

Graham Smith | 14:20 UK time, Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Congratulations to Miles Davis, the Cornwall Council press officer, who is soon to resume duties as a reporter on the West Briton newspaper. I'm sure I speak for many journalists when I welcome this return to the path of true righteousness.

46, with a bullet

Graham Smith | 15:50 UK time, Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Many thanks to anyone who voted for me in this year's Total Politics blog awards. Number 46 in the UK's top 50 Media Blogs category. To infinity, and beyond...

Devonwall - a brief history

Graham Smith | 15:21 UK time, Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Remember when Nick Clegg said "there will be no rigid mathematical formula"? And then Democratic Audit simply crunched the numbers on the non-existent mathematical formula and told us exactly what would happen. The proposed boundary changes appear to cause particular difficulties for Lib Dem MPs Dan Rogerson and Stephen Gilbert. If you want to know how they voted on the third and final reading of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, you'll find the Hansard here.

Don't look now

Graham Smith | 20:16 UK time, Friday, 9 September 2011

Back in May a full meeting of Cornwall Council voted to allow broadcasters to film and record inside the council chamber. At this week's meeting, four months later, the cameras were still banned. So what's going on?

My inquiries reveal that there is something called the Member Development Working Group. It is chaired by the council chairman, councillor Pat Harvey. This working group
asked for a "draft protocol" to be agreed by them before returning to full Council.

I don't think the "draft protocol" can be a very difficult thing to draft. Broadcasters had no problems working their way around the former Cornwall County Council chamber prior to 2009.

The council tells me:

"As there are only two full council meetings this year and it is unlikely the draft protocol will have been agreed by the timescale for the October meeting and the November meeting will be considering the Council's budget , a report is scheduled to go before full Council in January. If the protocol is agreed at that meeting it is hoped that it could be implemented immediately afterwards."

All I can say is that the Member Development Working Group must have an extremely onerous workload for it to have been unable to agree the "protocols" for letting the cameras in.

Apparently meetings of the Member Development Working Group have been arranged to agree the draft protocol. I'd like to tell you more about it, such as when it plans to meet, and who its members are, but not only are broadcasters not allowed in to its meetings, neither are members of the public. It doesn't even publish its agendas.

A top-sliced answer

Graham Smith | 19:56 UK time, Thursday, 8 September 2011

Question: Please provide an estimate of the officer-time, and therefore the cost to council taxpayers, of dealing with the Sticker tortoises over the past three years."


We do not hold this data as we do not record time taken against tasks. The Council's Legal Services Team state that 12 hours and 54 minutes were spent between 13 July 2010 and the date of this request and their costs total £812.06. However, this cost is not directly invoiced to the Public Health and Protection Service; it is paid for via a top-slicing of service budgets in respect of legal advice and support throughout the year.

Cornwall's Angry Brigade on the march

Graham Smith | 12:51 UK time, Thursday, 8 September 2011

Late on Tuesday Cornwall Council issued this statement, following the talkathon about who should be the returning officer for elections to chose a Devon and Cornwall Police Commissioner.

"They (the council) also agreed to send a strong cross party delegation to the Home Secretary to assert stronger Cornish representation in governance, opposition to Devonwall, assessment of case for Cornish Commissioner and police force, principle of democratic governance and accountability."
Councillors Andrew Wallis, Dick Cole and Jude Robinson have also blogged about this. I've asked the council to let me know the details of the "strong cross party delegation" - and the budget for the trip - because I'm quite confident it will be one of the most entertaining meetings of Theresa May's year.

Tortoise latest - are we nearly there yet?

Graham Smith | 16:29 UK time, Wednesday, 7 September 2011

As the rumpus over Sticker's tortoise sanctuary races towards the courts, I thought I'd helpfully draw readers' attention to this letter from Prime Minister David Cameron, sent to St Austell and Newquay MP Stephen Gilbert a couple of months ago.

Mr Cameron repeats the line which Defra has been telling me forever - that responsibility for all the definitions and interpretations of the 1981 Zoo Licensing Act rest with the local authority. Increasingly, I detect signs that Cornwall Council is seeking to hide behind its expert advice. So I phoned the principal expert, Peter Scott, a veterinary consultant. He confirmed that he sent the council a "mind map" which probably led to its current interpretation of the law. Like the council, he believes the legislation is flawed. But he was very interested to hear about David Cameron's letter, so I've sent him a copy.

I don't know if the Prime Minister is an expert on wildlife law or not. Probably not. But he is the Prime Minister. Incidentally, the council is due any day now to answer my Freedom of Information question about how much officer-time (and therefore cost to the public) has been spent in pursuit of Sticker's tortoises.

STOP PRESS: Peter Scott emails to say that the Prime Minister is not necessarily giving Cornwall Council the green light to interpret the legislation at it sees fit. He says Mr Cameron's observations are "not the same as interpreting whether its a zoo, or what is domesticated. The LA decide based on the legal definitions or guidance. A tortoise is clearly a wild animal, yes - often kept domestically. This is supported by the fact that many need registration under CITES - which domesticated species do not." He goes on to say: "My advice is register as a zoo and stop trying to fudge the definition because they are a worthy cause - which nobody disputes."

STOP STOP PRESS: Defra emails with admiral brevity (and clarity?): ""Local councils are responsible for administering the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and for interpreting its provisions."

STOP STOP STOP PRESS: It seems this hare got running (see what I did there?) when the campaign group Born Free lodged a formal complaint about the tortoise sanctuary with the council. I hope to get Born Free on BBC Radio Cornwall in the next few days.

How to cut off your nose to spite your face

Graham Smith | 13:51 UK time, Wednesday, 7 September 2011

I wasn't at County Hall for yesterday's meeting of Cornwall Council, and eagerly await the recording of proceedings on the council's excellent webcasting service. I am particularly intrigued by the reports I've heard about whether or not the council's chief executive Kevin Lavery should be the returning officer for elections to chose a Devon and Cornwall Police Commissioner next year.

Apparently the idea of a Cornwall Council official getting his hands dirty by supervising elections which include people from Devon so outraged members that they would prefer the elections to be supervised from outside the county. The council appears to have ignored the fact that these are elections for the Devon & Cornwall Police Commissioner (the clue is in the title.)

Councillor Jude Robinson
has blogged on this and I hope to have more to say once I've seen the webcast.

Top Gear

Graham Smith | 14:08 UK time, Friday, 2 September 2011

Well done to Launceston Lib Dem councillor Alex Folkes for his dogged pursuit of this story, which I'm sure will ruffle a few feathers at County Hall. The £30,465 taxpayers appear to have forked out for the Audi A5 (0-60 in 6.4 seconds) sits uncomfortably alongside cuts to services and worsened conditions for Cornwall Council staff. The council tells me it disputes Alex's claims about its mileage guidelines but cannot yet comment on why a fire brigade manager would need such a high-spec vehicle at public expense.

STOP PRESS: From County Hall:

"With reference to the specification of vehicles provided for the use of senior officers in Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, as with vehicles provided for senior officers in other emergency services, the vehicles need to be able to accommodate specialist communications and fire fighting equipment as officers may be called upon to attend major incidents. As CFRS covers a large geographical area, these officers may need to travel considerable distances to reach such an incident. The service also has cross border responsibilities with neighbouring authorities in Devon and so senior officers may need to be able to travel quickly to a scene outside Cornwall."

Question Time

Graham Smith | 11:06 UK time, Friday, 2 September 2011

This appears to be the only question from a member of the public to make it to the agenda for next week's meeting of Cornwall Council:

Non-Payment of Council Tax on Time

It is very disappointing that a number of Councillors who decide how this money is spent have set a bad example, as well as incurring unnecessary additional costs to the Council.
Does Cllr Robertson believe that the voters of Cornwall have a right to know the names of those Councillors who have let the people of Cornwall down?
Mr Harris
St Austell

Safe in their hands

Graham Smith | 13:17 UK time, Thursday, 1 September 2011

RCHT.xls My thanks to the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust for sending me this document, which details the range of services available to you if you don't have time for that "free at the point of delivery" stuff which politicians spout when they want your vote.

It's a menu-with-prices, offering pretty much everything from botox injections for £193, amenity beds for £75/day (£97 if you want en-suite) all the way through to major inpatient treatment for several thousand pounds. The RCHT is now touting for business from private patients on its website.

The 2010 RCHT accounts show income generated for the Trust from private patients was £660,000, which of course was re-invested in the National Health Service. And of course there is nothing new about the relationship between the private healthcare sector and the NHS. But have a look at the Excel file - I think it's fascinating what you can get from the NHS (more easily) if you can afford it.

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