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 parliament.uk 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.