Thursday, August 05, 2010

Charlotte's blog is now here.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Labour winning in Falmouth and Truro

This week's West Briton contains some good news for Labour and my determination as your prospective MP to make Cornwall's economy more sustainable.

First up, Falmouth Chamber of Commerce chairman Sandra Pilson said: "I am voting Labour to give Gordon Brown a chance to sort things out. I don't think Clegg or Cameron have the experience to do it. Unless they keep with what we have now it will put us back years."

And Kieran McVey who manages one of Falmouth's waterside hotels said: "Labour would be better purely because we appear to be on the road to recovery and a move away from the strategy currently in place may upset the process."

In Truro, shop-owner Doug Hughes said: "There's this opinion that a Conservative government is pro-business but in my experience business rates come down under Labour and they have been kind, especially to small businesses in the credit crunch."

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrat candidate here has been calling for improved rail services - between Lancashire and Yorkshire!

More about Charlotte's campaign to win

Recent news:

BBC Radio Cornwall - listen to the Truro and Falmouth debate

West Briton - listen to the Truro and Falmouth podcast

Voting for Cornwall's economy

Housing and earnings in Cornwall - candidate debate

Cornwall's NHS - candidate debate

Charlotte's candidate column - Falmouth edition

Labour launches manifesto

Cornwall's environment - candidate debate

Cornwall Council - first candidate debate

Charlotte's website

Charlotte's blog

Charlotte MacKenzie TV

Follow Charlotte on Twitter

Find Charlotte on facebook - politician's page and profile

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Student voters in Falmouth and Truro

This year, it seems that campaigns encouraging students to register - led by the NUS and others - have had some success.

As the Labour candidate, I listen to what students say.

I have pledged to vote against an increase in student fees. I support a fair system of student funding which enables people from all backgrounds to go to university.

We need a more sustainable economy - new jobs and industries will mean more graduates can use their skills to work locally if that is what they want to do. I'm supporting development of the creative, digital, marine, and renewable sectors.

When people contact me asking my views I reply - I will do my best to get back to everyone before polling day.

Students who vote can have a real impact on who becomes the first MP for this new constituency. On the 'notional' figures based on 2005 results it is a three-way fight between Labour, Tories, and Liberal Democrats; and there are about 5,000 more people on the register than in 2005.

I'm really happy that some students are actively supporting my election campaign - there is still time to volunteer to help by contacting me through my website, facebook, or twitter.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Backing Cornwall's pubs

This is my reply sent to the 'Back the Pub' campaign in support of Cornwall's pubs:

"As Labour's prospective MP in an area with some excellent local breweries, and pubs which are at the heart of some of our local communities, I am supporting CAMRA's 'beer drinkers and pub goers charter'.

I warmly welcome Labour Minister for Pubs John Healey MP's recent announcements helping community pubs.

I also actively supported the move to ban smoking in public places because of the clear evidence related to the negative health impacts of passive smoking on industry workers and non-smokers in a smoke-filled environment, and I will continue to do so."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why I want the job of being your MP

As Parliament was dissolved yesterday, people paid tribute to Matthew Taylor, who was the MP for Truro and St Austell for 23 years. When Matthew Taylor announced in 2007 he was standing down at the end of this Parliament, he said that the biggest thing he had achieved as an MP was the A30 Goss Moor by pass.

If I can do one thing as your future MP, it will be to bring together the investment that is needed for the dredging and development of Falmouth docks to make Falmouth's economy more sustainable, lifting the town's economy to the same level as Truro. This is what I said when I was interviewed recently on the BBC Politics Show (11 April broadcast, last report); the editors cut it.

Achieving this for Falmouth has the support of Labour in Government and Cornwall Council are a partner in the proposals. It will help to support the development of wave power and renewable energy as a new local industry.

Everybody understands that an MP of the Party of Government is more likely to be pushing on an open door.

Falmouth can't afford to wait 20 years for the economic development we need. Labour can win Truro and Falmouth on a swing like that which made Julia Goldsworthy MP in 2005.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Vote match - vote yellow, get blue

The Vote Match website is designed to help people work out which Party best reflects their individual policy priorities.

Those who, like me, are immersed in campaigning everyday for one Party may feel that the questions don't reflect all of the issues people raise most frequently with candidates. There are some policy gaps in the issues covered by the questions.

Even so, it is a useful ready reckoner. I worked through the questions and was unsurprised by my results.

The closest match for me, of course, is Labour. Nor was I surprised - as someone who feels strongly about the environment and local community empowerment - to find that a long way behind Labour the Green Party was my second closest match.

What the survey confirms is the widening policy gulf between Labour and the Liberal Democrats - who match just 40 per cent of my priorities as a Labour candidate, the same as the Conservatives.

For anyone wanting to keep the Tories out, and undecided between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, this quiz is a wake up call and reality check of just how close Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats in Cornwall really are to the Blues.  

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The grand national

For months the Liberal Democrats have spouted the language of bookies at the grand national, shouting two or three horse odds.

Nationally, as the general election started, Nick Clegg claimed lamely that it's a three horse race.

Reality message to Nick Clegg - here in Falmouth and Truro your vote is roughly divided between those who would rather have a Tory, and those who would rather have a Labour Government.

In this constituency, seven candidates have so far declared. Only one, like Ophelia, prays for remembrance, claiming that this time it's a two horse race - and, occasionally, crys in the wind that this must be a safe seat for the joke Party.

As Labour's candidate I make no apology for being in touch with reality. This is a three way seat. A swing to Labour of similar proportions to that which led to Julia Goldsworthy's election in 2005 will return a Labour MP for Truro and Falmouth.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Free theatre tickets for under-26s

Last year a consortium of venues in Cornwall participated in a Labour government scheme to make free theatre tickets available to people up to the age of 26. The scheme was launched through online videos featuring Eddie Izzard, photographed here at Labour's annual conference.

So I was delighted to see the Arts Council continue this approach in 2010, with some of Cornwall's arts venues taking part again.

It's easy to forget that many young people may never have seen a live performance in a theatre, even though TV and computers are part of their everyday life. Also, as people cut back on non-essential spending during the recession we are now edging out of, some theatres and arts venues saw audience numbers fall as a result. This scheme helps both.

Friday, April 02, 2010

The lobbyists' bombardment hopefully reaches it's crescendo

Why do lobbyists bombard parliamentary candidates with an avalanche of letters and e-mails as we get closer to the time when an election must be called?

This is a genuine question because the one thing that is certain is that any prospective MP who is actively seeking election will reply first to constituents' enquiries. We are too busy just now to sit with our feet up browsing through a paper mountain of glossy brochures.

I have a simple message for lobbyists. I am seeking election to represent people in Cornwall - or at least, people in the new three way Truro and Falmouth constituency. This includes the local business community.

As a candidate and if I am elected as MP I will not reply positively to lobbying requests to lend my support to any purely commercial interests.

I will always put my community first.

Where constituents approach me asking me to support causes, some of which are led by charities and voluntary associations, I am lending some of these causes my support.

Some contacts made through charities - for example, an excellent briefing I attended on dementia and carers after being contacted by the Alzheimers Society - improved my understanding of issues affecting many people in this constituency, and that is something I appreciate.

Overall, lobbyists might engage the attention of future MPs more readily if they contact prospective candidates - or newly elected MPs - at any other time.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Another former Liberal Democrat

The former leader of Restormel Borough Council says he will be supporting Mebyon Kernow's leader Dick Cole in the forthcoming general election.

It is difficult to escape the impression that Liberal Democrats in Cornwall have yet to recover fully from internal rifts produced by the decision to bid (successfully) for a single unitary, and the fall out this caused amongst their councillors who are now much reduced in number.

Tim Jones has a reputation for working for people in his local community - the last time I heard him contribute to a meeting was at a Citizens Advice Bureau AGM at Kingsley Village. So perhaps it is not surprising that the reason Tim Jones gave for his decision is that if Cllr Dick Cole is not elected as an MP he will continue to live in and work for his local area.

Even so, it strikes me as odd to support the person you trust to champion your community if they lose, rather than if they are elected.

As a candidate I'm asking for support for what I will do if elected - and most people I'm speaking to will consider candidates on that basis.

I love Cornwall and people here. So there is something I'd like to change. I want to find a way to enable everyone in Cornwall to recognise we have - and can have - equal political access to influence, power, and funding. Despite evidence to the contrary there are some people who behave politically as though Cornwall is destined to lose and they are powerless to do anything about that.

With Labour in Government Cornwall is benefiting from investment. If people here elect MPs whose Party is in Government (and hope to form the next government) maybe people will start to feel they are pushing on an open door. Rather than digging a trench ready for whenever the next local battle lines are drawn.

And whenever the general election is called, I hope there will be a much higher turnout than at last year's Council elections, when just 14 per cent of Cornwall's electorate voted for Tory candidates, and 86 per cent didn't - but most of these stayed at home.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Students, doctors, and business

Suddenly it is two weeks since my last post.

There have been several hustings events. A student Q&A, a hustings style event at Truro School, Cornwall BMA hustings for the three main Party candidates, and a business breakfast in Falmouth the day after the Budget.

It was interesting to see how far similar questions were raised at these events. Each audience also had some expected specific interests - university fees, graduate employment, NHS funding, business taxes and regulation.

There was some heart-warming feedback after each of these events - including from a Liberal Democrat candidate in another constituency.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What's news?

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a local journalist. This arose from a press release I'd issued about my support for NSPCC's campaign to highlight child protection issues. It is a topical issue locally because, following a highly critical Ofsted report, Cornwall Council has an independently chaired Improvement Board reviewing and overseeing the service changes that are needed.

For personal reasons, the former portfolio holder Cllr Sally Bain resigned and has not yet been replaced.

While the Tories and Liberal Democrats argue about the minutiae of the Council business plan, balance sheets, and costs of the unitary authority, they hurl in fleeting references to 'failing services' as though these are just part of the everyday Council furniture - about which the only argument is how much it cost - or, like the weather, are something the Council has no control over.

I know I'm not the only person wondering when Councillors will start showing more concern for people and services. And when a new portfolio holder will be appointed. There are plenty of people in Cornwall who care whether our child protection services are working. The journalist asked me why a press release about this - and my positive support for the NSPCC's child protection campaign - was news. I said that I wanted to highlight the issue because it is one I know people are concerned about, and there has been little communication about when a new portfolio holder will be appointed.

Recently, Cornwall Council was found to have acted unlawfully in its approach to assessing some adult social care needs and charges. Today, I read this comment on serious case reviews by Cllr Chris Ridgers. Which to me reinforces the point that services for people are more important - and newsworthy - than political ping-pong and mudslinging that fails to say what practical impact the Council's recent financial decisions will have on people's lives.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Facing the music - yes. Pantomime politics - no.

This week the BBC's Nick Robinson expressed political surprise that Labour is rising in the opinion polls despite the pre-elections media onslaught and the Chilcott enquiry hearing Gordon Brown's evidence. I am not surprised, because I'm talking to people here everyday. With elections looming, people are thinking seriously about what they do want for the future. And while this may be mainly about Labour's investment and delivery for the many, people also want politicians who are prepared to face the music. If the Tory leader didn't know Lord Ashcroft's tax status after ten years of public questions being raised about it, most people are wondering why David Cameron didn't ask his Party's biggest donor and deputy a few straight questions.

People here are also saying they want politicians of all Parties to work together. Nationally, the Tories walked away from government talks about care of the elderly and the new National Care Service. Most people recognise this is one of the biggest challenges we face, and they want politicians who will get round the table and help work out positive practical solutions. Locally, Cornwall Council is no overall control, but the Liberal Democrats walked away from being part of the Cabinet, allowing the Tories to dominate decision making while the Liberal Democrats whinge, grumble, and protest about local decisions after choosing to be in opposition.

People don't want pantomime politics with politicians shouting each other down. It does seem that some local politicians really haven't got this message. BBC Radio Cornwall this week pre-recorded an 'Any questions?' style event at County Hall with a panel of the four Cornwall Council political group leaders. I was upstairs at county hall at a well-attended public event discussing transport needs, while this recording took place, although I mingled downstairs and spoke to people before and after the recording. The audience invited by political Parties were mainly prospective parliamentary candidates or Cornwall councillors - who heckled loudly, objected and interrupted as political opponent group leaders answered their questions. The public - and the Independent group of councillors - were not invited to be part of the audience.

Last June, people here elected a no overall council. Now they are saying loud and clear that they want politicians who will work together to do what's best for Cornwall. I doubt that those who listened to the pre-recorded BBC broadcast felt that their views are being heard or listened to by most of those taking part in this local political bun fight.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Michael Foot 1913-2010

Michael Foot always reminded me of my much less well known grandfather, my mother's father, who was a life-long Labour supporter who lived to be a similar age. It is impossible to read or talk about the Labour Party over the years in Cornwall without bumping into the Feet. There is some retrospective annoyance that, when he was a determined Labour candidate for 'Falmouth and Penryn' - the first Labour held seat in Cornwall which had almost identical boundaries to the new seat of Truro and Falmouth  - A.L.Rowse dismissively claimed that Labour supporters in North Cornwall would be better supporting the Liberals, because the Cornish Foot family's intellectually vigorous Liberal tradition meant it would never go Labour. Rowse was a young, academically elitist Labour candidate convinced politics was about winning the rational argument, who moved Labour into second place here but was never elected, while occasionally confiding to his private diary that the "idiot people" got things wrong.

Last year a friend in Cornwall gave me a collection of some of Michael Foot's journalism. It includes Michael Foot's memoir of an old political sparring partner George Brown, which begins: "When Lord George Brown died at his Cornish home in June 1985 no comets were seen, but .... within a few days came a heavenly leakage or downpour, call it what you will, with the latest information, confirmed in colourful detail, that he had died a Catholic, that the local priest from Falmouth had been ready and prepared to perform the last rites." And later recalls: "The same George Brown who whispered at the top of his voice warnings against 'authoritarian' or 'Presidential' tendencies in the Labour Party, once got me expelled from it at a meeting called at three hours' notice .... George Brown with a thumping majority at his back or a card vote in his pocket, could be a boorish bully, and part of the Brownite or Gaitskellite fury against Wilson, one suspects, was that he outmanoeuvred them at their own game of behind the scenes confabulations and contrivances."

As a politician, Michael Foot was of a very different temper, and I doubt he privately converted to Catholicism because he let people read him like a book. While many more column inches may now be written about his brief Labour premiership, Michael Foot was someone who, with both feet grounded by his family's Cornish roots, could simply quote - in a moving tribute to Jennie Lee - this from Robert Ingersoll: "I believe in the fireside. I believe in the democracy of home. I believe in the republicanism of the family. I believe in liberty, equality, and love." And that is partly why Michael Foot will be remembered by many in Cornwall with great affection.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Total politics

There has been no shortage of things to blog about, just a lack of writing time. This weekend I wrote the PPC diary and review of the week for the political magazine Total Politics. I decided to focus on local news production and community media. It was published today and I decided to include it here too.

Sunday 21 February

First up an 8am interview about Fairtrade fortnight on BBC radio Cornwall - as a Truro councillor, I chair the city's Fairtrade group. With me are two youth workers from the charity Young People Cornwall, who run some great projects and are helping to raise awareness of Fairtrade. As we part company after the interview, one of the youth workers dubs me the "Fairtrade guru".

Monday 22 February

I do a candidate interview on Penryn community radio The Source. I enjoy talking to Gwen Willoughby, whose programme creates the relaxed atmosphere of a chat in the kitchen. Gwen starts the telephone interview by asking my view on the news headlines. Her concerns about the number 10 allegations by Andrew Rawnsley confirms for me that this is probably going to be the issue that local voters will want to talk about today. Later in the programme, Gwen gives me a good opportunity to chat about my constituency priorities. No sooner had I put the phone down, than I got a call from a broadcasting student asking if I could go to the campus to be filmed at their studio this afternoon - I said no, because of other commitments.

Tuesday 23 February

Monday's Council and today’s community network meeting both include discussion of plans for local development including new park and rides, and housing needs. I express my concern at Cornwall Council's decision to market a former school site in my ward as a potential district retail centre, and to reduce the affordable housing expectation from 50 to 35 per cent, as well as cutting the total number of homes to be delivered on a site previously identified as for housing. A local newspaper journalist calls me for more information and a quote.

The community network meeting includes a housing presentation. I ask for an update on the Council's re-registration process. It emerges that something has gone badly wrong. Some households previously registered with more than one former district council, but nobody believes that the 7,000 households that have re-registered so far reflects the full extent of housing needs in Cornwall. Previously, there were over 18,000 households registered. The form is complex, and worryingly re-registrations are almost non-existent in some areas. I ask what the Council is doing to publicise the re-registration process, and I am now following up these concerns.

Wednesday 24 February

I give a short talk to politics and academic academy students at Truro College, and am impressed by the fact that both groups have lots of searching questions about politics and the news headlines. Discussions like this - and the fact that I can remember wanting to be able to vote when I was doing A-levels - contribute to my view that the voting age should be lowered to sixteen.

Thursday 25 February

I pick up copies of the local weekly newspapers. One of the local MPs is now expressing concern about the housing re-registration process. The former school site story gets a write up too, and the quote I gave them is included. In the early evening, I pre-record another telephone interview for The Source; and then meet a broadcasting student in Falmouth to record comments for her “radio programme” assignment on whether personality is important in politics.

Friday 26 February

On Friday evening, I catch up with some local political blogs. These are growing in number from Councillors, candidates, activists and commentators, and there are now new sites devoted to aggregating Cornish blogs and political comment. Most of the content is local, although the activists write comment on the news headlines too. This week, one anonymous blogger who isn’t a Labour supporter describes me as “media-savvy”. By late Saturday evening, the latest opinion poll showing Labour closing the gap to win is published online.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Second homes and public spending in Cornwall

Some mixed messages from Cornwall's Liberal Democrat MPs about second homes and public spending in Cornwall.

Their latest press release claims they "successfully campaigned to reverse the Conservative policy of allowing second homeowners to pay half the council tax that full-time residents pay." In fact, the Labour Government decision to make second home owners pay 90 per cent of full council tax has frequently been cited as a complaint by local Liberal Democrats when arguing that second homes should need change of use planning permission.

The reality is that second home owners can switch their properties to business rates - which are lower than council tax - by identifying them as holiday lets, and these switches have multiplied since second home council tax increased.

Other tax breaks associated with letting second homes have already been ended by Labour in Government from April 2010. So it is laughable that Dan Rogerson MP and Julia Goldsworthy MP's political press releases say they are only now lobbying for this change, which was announced by Chancellor Alistair Darling in the 2009 pre budget report.

What needs to be understood - as no doubt it is by local MPs - is that the business rates which are collected locally - like the tax breaks second home owners will now lose - are central government revenue. That is one reason why I do not support requiring change of use planning permission for second homes. There is a danger that it would reverse the positive impact of the 90 per cent council tax received from some second home owners.

The one exception to this is the local business rates which support Business Improvement Districts - including those in Falmouth and Truro. These support local events and other improvements which benefit the local community and Cornwall's economy.

And as someone who consistently supported the Sustainable Communities Act, I look forward to more detailed reports on public spending in Cornwall.

A fully elected second chamber

Speculation today that the proposed electoral reform referendum has a majority in the Commons but not in the Lords. So here is a reason for those actively advocating electoral reform to move an elected second chamber to the top of their political agenda. Until now, they seem oddly reluctant to give greater urgency to changing the anachronism that is the fully unelected second chamber (except that the Bishops who are peers are elected through the Church of England), rather than tinkering with the voting system for the Commons.

Another person's treasure - reduce, re-use, recycle

When I was a little girl, one of my best toys ever was a red scooter, which I bought at a jumble sale.

I was reminded of this scooter on Monday afternoon because I went to the United Downs household recycling centre. Cars queued up for people to leave their discarded household items while two employees asked us survey questions and several others helped organise who parked and left their items where.

There are lots of ways to recycle useable items - car boot sales, charity shops, e-bay, small ads, jumble and garage sales - all in use in Cornwall.

Do SITA really need to do a survey to establish that Truro, as the fourth largest residential settlement in Cornwall, also needs its own household recycling centre? Otherwise its a ten mile round trip to United Downs.

Did I hear at some stage that SITA's contract with Cornwall Council gives the Company exclusive rights to the household waste it collects in Cornwall? As the cars queued, I was paused by a roadsign saying '60 per cent recycled'. As the SITA newsletters say, that is probably a bigger percentage than before. But it is 60 per cent of items brought to this household recycling point. None of the black bag waste gets recycled. Do they calculate what proportion of all household waste gets recycled through kerbside recycling collections as well as household amenity sites? And if so, please will they add that to the information in their newsletters.

Like many people, two of the reasons why I consistently oppose a centralised incinerator are that it would reduce recycling and increase the local miles that Cornwall's black bag waste travels.

And I agree with Councillor Andrew Wallis that creating opportunities for people to re-use items locally that have been taken by others to the household amenity sites makes environmental and social sense.

I can still remember waiting for that second hand red scooter to be reduced from 15 shillings to seven shillings and sixpence (37.5 pence) at the end of the jumble sale, so that I could buy it with my pocket money, and the many hours I spent playing on it.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Do you remember the bad old days before Labour?

I received a letter of support today with a request to publish it:

'Dear Charlotte

We are writing to remember & to memorise some youngsters that go to the polling stations to give their votes on the big day to decide the MP to be elected in Cornwall.

We as elderly pensioners can remember what the Tories did destroy our country in 1970/80s - miners & steel jobs was devastated, hosiery workers also closed down leaving the people jobless - all unemployment was high as well in those days - that was the old Heath and Thatcher governments etc.

There was no heating allowances, no free pensioners bus passes - now these was all created by the Labour governments policies like we are at the moment with the present concessions for us age concern heating allowances, public free bus passes - do we want this taken from us again under these Tories government.

We're asking these voters to be sensible and vote a Labour candidate for a better Cornwall - more for the poor, not for the rich - under Labour.

Let's have good memories & remember what the Tories did to our workforce last Tory government - all closed down.

From yours truly
Keith & Joan Davies
(ex-miner and his wife)

Please kindly publish in local Labour paper.'

This letter wasn't written in Cornwall. But in this student constituency, whenever the election is called, people voting for the first time could decide the outcome.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Cornwall's Liberal Democrat MPs

The report on MPs' expenses is published today.

In the clear with 'no issues' leading to requests for repayment are Dan Rogerson MP and Matthew Taylor MP.

The requests for repayment are:
Colin Breed MP                     £3,639.49
Andrew George MP               £4,348.25
Julia Goldsworthy MP               £171.32

All of MPs' expenses information is now published in a searchable database on the website.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Cornwall's Tories: community asset strippers

Following my questions to the Council about the office transformation plan, Council Leader Alec Robertson wrote a letter to local newspapers saying they own over 4,000 properties, and suggesting that disposing of 48 of these is really not that significant. I don't agree, but I do think that if he wants to communicate directly, openly, and transparently with the public he shouldn't just tell us half of it.

So let me refer to two other Council properties which they are currently marketing:

(1) Devoran Old School. On Monday evening I was one of over 100 people who attended a meeting called by Devoran Action Group. This group has been working to develop plans for the community to take over the village centre building and develop it as a community centre with a nursery, after school clubs, village shop, and other employment units. The Council backed this scheme by applying for it to be one of two possible community asset transfer pilots and access government funding. The outcome of this bid is not yet known, but those at the meeting on Monday evening want it to go ahead. However, while the Council is waiting for the outcome of the bid they have put the property on the open market, and say that if Devoran Action Group cannot come up with a competitive bid and available funds by 11 February (next Thursday) they will accept one of the other bids they have so far received. The fact that they are trampling on the wishes of the community seems to make no difference.

(2) Old Richard Lander School site - which is in the ward I represent as a councillor. This site was placed back on the market on 23 January 2010. Now this is one of very few brownfield sites in Truro, and one which local residents accept could sensibly be used for new social and affordable homes. The draft Truro and Threemilestone Action Plan - which has been through public consultation - ear-marked the site for housing development including 50 per cent affordable housing as it is currently public sector land. But the Council has now ignored it's own plan and advertised the land as suitable for development of a district retail centre, with limited housing, of which only 35 per cent will be expected to be affordable. The fact that they are trampling on community aspirations to meet the need for social and affordable housing on a suitable, available site which is in public ownership seems to make no difference.

Neither of these Council property decisions has been communicated well, or fairly, to the communities involved. Indeed, as a councillor, the only communication I previously had about the Council's change of thinking on the Richard Lander School site was an anonymous letter with a Plymouth postmark, which was sent to all Truro councillors.

I am glad the Liberal Democrats lost control of Cornwall Council last year, but the fact that their group of councillors then refused to work as part of a no overall control Council leadership means that - frankly - they have no-one else to blame for their current exclusion from decision-making, no matter how often they throw their toys out the pram at scrutiny and other meetings, as they did today. Choosing to be Liberal Democrat is choosing to support a political Party that will never form a UK government, but they could if they wanted to accept responsibility for stopping the worst excesses of Cornwall's new Council leadership, rather than opt to protest feebly and futilely from the wings. This is not just about Council properties east of Bodmin, important though these are to residents in east and north Cornwall.

I have no illusions about the Tories. I saw what they did at every level of government in the 1980s and it didn't work. What they did impoverished and damaged entire communities including many in Cornwall. People were made homeless while unscrupulous profiteers cashed in by buying repossessed first homes and turning them into holiday lets - not least, in this constituency. If you want to find out what 'broken Britain' - or broken Cornwall - would be like, time travel to the 1980s by asking someone who can remember.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A burning issue revisited

Today the Cornwall Council waste strategy panel met to decide whether to ask their contracted waste company SITA to submit revised plans for an incinerator. SITA's previous incinerator plan was rejected by the Council's planning committee before the local elections last year. SITA appealed against this decision. There will now be a public enquiry in March, followed by a decision by the secretary of state after the latest possible date for a general election.

It was the Liberal Democrat Cornwall County Council elected in 2005 who chose incineration as their preferred approach and contracted with SITA. The comments on today's meeting to a local newspaper by Matthew Taylor MP would be comical if it weren't for the fact that - for financial as well as environmental reasons - practical decisions need to be made. Conveniently ignoring that it was a Liberal Democrat Council that agreed the contract with SITA, Matthew Taylor MP was the first to throw stones in the glass house: "The Conservatives opposed the incinerator to get elected, but now they are in charge they are about to double-cross electors and back the incinerator."

The fact is that the panel of five Tories, four Liberal Democrats, four Independents, and one MK councillor today decided a recommendation that will go to the Council's Cabinet. The majority backed incineration as an approach by recommending SITA develop a revised proposal.

The argument about Cornwall's waste strategy has run through three Councils and (so far) two general elections. It is fair to say that the issue is not Party political, in that representatives of the three main Parties have spoken for and against incineration in different representative roles, where there are different local factors to take into consideration, and at different stages of the process; for Labour, the only government view is that the chosen approach to waste management should be a local decision. And if anyone failed to deliver that, it was the Liberal Democrats.

I agree with Matthew Taylor MP that "Other communities are developing better, more environmental options for dealing with waste." Like him, I have consistently supported objections to his Party's original choice of incineration and at every subsequent decision stage; and the political boundary changes have not weakened the opposition of my constituency Labour Party to a single, centralised incinerator.

The Liberal Democrats dug the Council into a hole by supporting incineration and then allowing SITA to submit a plan that was refused planning permission. Financially, today's meeting may start to move the Council into a more manageable position and make it more likely that costs can be stopped from escalating.

For Cornwall's environment and carbon emissions it is still the wrong decision, caused by the Liberal Democrats who could have stopped the incinerator many of their supporters oppose when they were elected five years ago, and by now delivered a sustainable waste strategy for Cornwall. And fortunately, it may still be possible to do that, provided a single, centralised incinerator can be stopped.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Looking for work

Today's unemployment figures show a slight decrease nationally in the number of people seeking work. But in this constituency - even though unemployment is lower than the national average - there has been a slight increase in the number of people without a job.

The figures published today show the UK average has returned to the level of unemployment in March 1997 (4.1%). But in Cornwall, this comparison tells a different story. It isn't good that unemployment in this constituency has now risen to 3 per cent. But this is three quarters of the national figure, and just half the level of unemployment in Carrick in March 1997 (5.8%).

Every one of the 1,622 people seeking work in this constituency faces a challenge, and I know from listening to people who are seeking work locally that more support and better help is needed.

They will be helped by the fact that - even in the wake of the recession - Cornwall's economy is now much stronger than it was before Labour was elected in 1997. Labour's investment and employment policies - including the minimum wage and tax credits - mean that those seeking work now face brighter prospects than those who were unemployed in March 1997.

The map above shows the decrease in unemployment compared to the last previous recession in 1991-2. It highlights quite clearly the challenges Cornwall faced during the last Tory government, and the way that people in Cornwall have benefitted from Labour's actions in government since 1997.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The big issue

Cornwall Council has a few things to decide. It's forward plan, it's office 'vision', it's services and other budgets for next year. But councillors at the full Council meeting today spent three hours - with a break for lunch - discussing whether to award themselves a pay rise of up to 33 per cent.

In a previous post, I speculated that: 'the allowances issue will be politically neutral if the Tory and Liberal Democrat groups both vote against it, and if that is the case I would expect both of these groups to reward their councillors next year for good behaviour.'

After talking for three hours the Council agreed on a one-year freeze. The Liberal Democrats proposed an amendment in favour of a 4 year freeze. They lost. So next year it seems likely the Liberal Democrats will be able to do the same thing, and then laugh all the way to the bank. OK, this is one of a very small number of things I get cynical about.

But now the only issue they seem to think worth debating for three hours is out of the way, maybe the Council decision-makers could talk about some things that matter a great deal more to people in Cornwall.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Voting for what you believe in

There are two things I have never understood about arguments for electoral reform.

One is the claim that votes only 'count' if the Party and candidate you vote for is elected. This is absurd. The purpose of democratic elections is to make a choice between Parties and manifestos. If you do not vote - or if you spoil your ballot paper - you choose not to make your vote or have it counted. If you vote, it is counted, and your vote does 'count' and contribute to the result at every level.

Democratically, the challenge we face is the disengagement with politics which means many people do not vote. Last year, a low turnout gave us the new Cornwall Council elected by a minority of the electorate.

So here is one of my wishes for the general election - I hope people will take part and vote, as they queued up to do in the most recent American presidential election. In this new constituency, if the student population registers and votes, they could determine the outcome of the election.

The second thing I don't understand about arguments for electoral reform is why anyone thinks being asked to vote for more than one Party would make your vote 'count' more, because - like tactical voting - it is a systematic dilution and distortion of choice at an election.

And while we are talking about non-choices - people in Cornwall don't want a playground politics, where Lib/Con Party hacks swap taunts that their campaign chiefs are 'fatty', 'lardy', or dementing because they are standing on the same ground and treading on each others toes. If you don't have anything more worth saying, why bother opening your mouth.

No matter how many times the Lib/Con double act write to me, I will stand, fight, and vote for what I believe in - Labour.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cornwall's Cons - we can't go on like this

The latest press release from Cornwall's Tories claims of their plans to dispose of 48 office buildings and spend £12 Million plus on remodelling three main offices:

"Capital receipts from property disposals will be re-invested in better services."

Whereas Local Government Association guidance published in October 2009 confirms the legal position:

"Councils can only use assets sales to finance capital spending."

This fact was made clear to Cornwall Council's Cabinet on Wednesday 13 January 2010, and the Tory press release was published after that meeting.

While we are on the subject of Tory bogus claims, the fact that buildings which are no longer Council offices will not contribute to the Council's carbon emissions may do nothing to reduce Cornwall's carbon footprint if these buildings continue to be used by others without being retro-fitted. What has happened to Cornwall's climate change action plan?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Cornwall Council - we can't go on like this

Yesterday morning I attended Cornwall Council Cabinet. On several occasions during the discussion of office disposal the corporate resources portfolio holder Cllr Jim Currie asserted "we've got to start doing things". A new resolution was tabled to replace the published one, and the Cabinet duly approved "the reduction from 78 principal buildings to 30 by 2015".

Several councillors made heartfelt pleas to see the list of 48 properties to be disposed of - or the list of 30 properties to be retained - and expressed concern that relocating staff to expanded main offices in Camborne, Truro, and Bodmin constituted centralisation at the expense of north, east, and west Cornwall. They were rebuffed with assurances that neither list exists - it seems the precise numbers 48 and 30 just popped up like Wednesday bonus balls, and the 'Property Transformation Plan for the Office Estate' approved in the resolution is a statement of intention for which the 'plan' has yet to be developed.

Paragraph 3.2 of the published report says that the changes may lead to the 'withdrawal of one stop shops' but that this would not be 'widespread'. If it weren't so important to the community, it might have been comical to hear Cabinet members assert that the plans are about back office accommodation and will have no impact on customer facing services, while the officer explained how they would provide better customer access - for example, at Dolcoath Avenue it may no longer be necessary for members of the public to take a lift to the second floor to see planning applications.

In the circumstances, perhaps I should be pleased that - in response to my question - Cllr Jim Currie directly denied that the office transformation plan will have any implications for the one stop shop in central Truro. If I were one of those who had voiced concern about centralisation, I might have wondered whether the Council intends to locate more than 1050 employees at offices in Truro.

The one stop shop in Truro is located on the ground floor of the former Carrick District Council offices. This is identified in the draft Truro and Threemilestone Action Plan (which is not expected to complete it's inspection until December 2011) as a development site. The draft action plan is already underpinned by back office project planning indicating when development is expected to take place, although that timetable drifted during the recession. The planning application for the Penzance new ferry terminal foundered partly because English Heritage is a statutory objector. It is unclear whether the Cabinet's plans to increase the number of staff working at County Hall from 680 to 1050 and move it's reception to a newly constructed 'public link' will get the listed building consents it would need. But it will be surprising if in due course the former Carrick District Council offices in Truro - one stop shop and all - do not come forward for redevelopment.

Perhaps surprisingly, until yesterday's meeting political blogs in Cornwall had been drawing dividing lines for the vote on proposed increases in allowances, at the full council next week, rather than the Cabinet's planned assets sale. For once, the allowances issue will be politically neutral if the Tory and Liberal Democrat groups both vote against it, and if that is the case I would expect both of these groups to reward their councillors next year for good behaviour. Politically, it will be more interesting if the Liberal Democrats behave as they have done previously and ditch their 2009 election pledge by voting for the increase.

If we didn't need genuine democratic renewal in the wake of the MPs' expenses revelations, it might be comical that David Cameron MP used his new year message to call for new politics before returning to his slapstick routines at Prime Minister's questions on Wednesdays. There is an important difference between the way that politicians' behave, and you see it in Cornwall councillors too. Regardless of political Party, I respect polticians who are direct and honest, speak their minds frankly, and show their political values. I do not respect politicians who are disingeuous - it may be one sort of political skill, but to me it only communicates self-interest and I believe politics is about public service, not conning people.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Cornwall's Tories - selling assets, cutting services

Since Wednesday, people all over Cornwall have been battening down the hatches in the snow. Many schools closed, lanes icy and dangerous, and stretches of some main roads inadequately gritted and salted forcing some drivers to abandon their cars. The former Carrick District Council was previously criticised every time there were insufficient sandbags to protect frequently flooded streets. Now Cornwall Council is rightly under the spotlight for its inadequate level of preparedness in freezing weather.

Some Cornwall Council meetings have been cancelled this week, but not the scrutiny meetings looking at the Council's draft budget - provided these meetings were quorate they went ahead. I can't help wondering whether some councillors - snowed in at home or not - have now missed their only chance to comment.

I wrote before about the fact that Liberal Democrats are the only group that decided to work in opposition to the no overall control - but now Tory dominated - executive. This doesn't alter the fact that some of the opposition concerns raised by Liberal Democrat members are naturally very local - actually, these ward-specific concerns might be raised more effectively if they were working as part of the administration. This week, it emerged that Truro Councillor Rob Nolan is the Liberal Democrats' whip. I'll resist the herding cats analogy because I'm more interested in what another minority political group - the Tories - are planning to do with some of Cornwall's assets which are currently in public ownership.

Next Wednesday, Cornwall Council Cabinet will discuss whether to dispose of 48 of its 78 office accommodation buildings. The list - which is unpublished - includes properties rented as well as owned by the Council. These proposals form an integral part of the draft budget for the corporate resources portfolio holder Tory Councillor Jim Currie, who was quoted in a local newspaper saying of the Council's approach to budgeting: "We have already been cutting things and that is why we don't have the resources we need to do things."

There are a number of big questions here. Is it financially sensible to bring forward plans to dispose of six out of ten of the Council's office properties while the commercial property market remains slow enough for the Government to have recently reintroduced empty property rates relief? It would have a negative impact on Cornwall's economy and communities if office buildings discarded by the Council remain unoccupied.

The Council can only sell properties we own - and yield the proceeds for spending - once. If some sales make sense following the unitary reorganisation, the Council has a financial responsibility to consider whether selling, renting out, or reusing in other ways for the community constitutes best value. The Council is looking to provide more social housing - has it made an assessment of whether any of the office sites that it owns might be converted to housing or used for new housing? The former Carrick District Council site, for example, has been identified in draft local plans as suitable for housing.

If some of these Council office buildings are community assets, will local communities be given the opportunity to take them on? Even in situations where buildings require some refurbishment and maintenance, communities may aspire to do this. Despite delays with initial refurbishment followed by burst frozen pipes and flooding, Malabar community and childrens centre is making good use of the old Treyew primary school buildings. Politics aside, Labour in Government has encouraged community ownership and management of assets; and the Tories have trumpeted that they would introduce a 'community right to buy' (which is disingenuous given that buildings in public ownership have already been bought once by the community). If some of Cornwall Council's buildings are transferred to the community, they will come with their maintenance and repairs backlog which the published paper suggests the Council is eager to dispose of.

The paper also makes it clear that it's plans to dispose of office accommodation may mean the relocation of some one stop shops - I guess this may include the former Carrick District Council offices in Truro. The one stop shop there cost £20,000 to refit the Council reception area as a Council reception area (oh yes) last summer, and a section of the building's slate roof has also recently been replaced.

The Council expects to be able to make longterm reductions in it's carbon footprint by reducing it's office accommodation - not that this will make much difference to Cornwall's carbon emissions if offices are disposed of and reoccupied without being retrofitted, and hundreds of relocated staff have further to travel to the smaller number of sites retained as Council offices (Trades Union consultation is underway). It is fair to say however that plans to undertake some redevelopment and refurbishment at Dolcoath Avenue and new County Hall include improved provision for cycling to work.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Good governance - more important than the Liberal Democrats

BBC Radio Cornwall today interviewed Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne who was visiting Cornwall in his role as their home affairs spokesperson.

Perhaps Chris Huhne MP doesn't know that in Truro and Falmouth constituency, at local elections last year, the Liberal Democrats were in third place and they now hold just one in six (4) of the council seats in this constituency. The voters' verdict was clear - people just don't want more of the same Liberal Democrat incompetence and poor governance: cuts to adult social care, threatened cuts to local fire services, Cornwall's only airport closed for three weeks in the run up to Christmas, planning permission refused (for good reasons) for the waste incinerator planned by the Council, and independent audit reports criticising their financial management. Chris Huhne MP claimed Liberal Democrats 'look after ordinary people' - try telling that to those who had their adult social care cut in Cornwall, or those rightly concerned about their child protection legacy here.

When a BBC Radio Cornwall caller today said that 'good governance' is more important to people than Party politics, Chris Huhne MP said he agreed 'entirely' - focusing swiftly on national politics. But the only Party locally that is refusing to work as part of the 'No Overall Control' Council leadership to deliver better governance for people in Cornwall is the Liberal Democrats.

Last year the Tories' voteshare here also fell compared to 2007, so that they now hold one in three (8) of the Cornwall Council seats in this constituency.

Two for joy (again!)

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the fact that my youngest cousin and my niece were both expecting first babies due at similar times. Luke and Stanley will be two this year. Last year, Luke's younger brother Tom also joined the family. I heard this weekend that my nephew and his partner, who married last year, are expecting twins.

Extended maternity leave, paternity leave, childcare vouchers, free nursery places, Sure Start and children's centres are making a difference for this generation of parents with young families. Before the general election, as well as the leaders' debates, there need to be detailed policy debates to draw out the differences between the two main Parties on issues which make such a big difference to people everyday.