The House of Lords scandal continues

It is June 2015. There are 786 Lords and Baronesses, appointed by government or there by birthright, who play a major role in government in the UK.

Some of them I know personally, they are Labour, hard working and I am sure would vote for the abolition of the Lords if they ever had the chance. No matter how good they are (and they are) at doing the job, this is not the way we (they) should be running the country in the 21st century. Is it?

In 1999, the Labour government reduced the number of hereditary peers entitled to sit in the Lords to 92.  This was supposed to be the first stage of reform that would make the Lords democratic and accountable. It all went pear shaped after that. (And peer shaped).

Whatever the reason, whatever the difficulty, it feels like someone is taking the p*ss.

Labour had never had a majority in the House of Lords, for obvious reasons.  The hundreds of hereditary peers who used to come racing up to the House of Lords from the country piles to block Labour legislations were a throwback and it was astonishing that this country tolerated it until 1999.   At least that is gone.

But instead of sweeping away the whole thing, governments since those first reforms have just tried to dominate it by appointing more of their own.  Labour has  212 peers,  the Tories have 228, Lib Dems 101.

So now the Lib Dems have only 7.9% of the vote, they still have 12.8% of the peers. Ukip on the other hand, gained 12.6% of the popular vote but have 3 peers or 0.38%.

Most peers (surprise) are men.  All the 26 bishops, of course. Disappointingly, Labour is slightly behind the Lib Dem on gender equality, giving up our hard earned place as the campaigners on this (just below one third), the Tories hardly bother with a fifth.

Before anyone starts wittering that it’s the best person for the job, just remember these people are appointed not elected. You’re saying that women are not as good if they don’t get the appointments. Go home and do some hard thinking.

Peers are appointed for life. So they cannot get kicked out. To reflect the now Tory majority, Cameron’s government will no doubt appoint another raft of Conservative blokes to increase their influence. It’s the only way to do it.

It’s not representative of the population, election results or anything except the desire of government to increase its own power.

At what point are we, the people who pay for this multi million pound house of privilege and unaccountable power, going to say ‘Enough’?

Camborne’s Parks and Open Spaces

Tika in parkThe first step in Camborne Town Council’s devolution revolution (shall we call it #camdevrev for short??) is to consider a business case for our parks, recreation grounds and open spaces.

At present, Camborne has an amount in our budget for taking on services. There is £87,000 a year earmarked and we have to be aware that, if we plan to take on responsibility that costs more than that, we will have to raise the Camborne precept (that’s out part of the overall council tax bill).

To raise another £100,000 would cost about £19 a year extra from residents with a Band D property, less for those with Band A, B or C properties.

You could look at this as 36.5p a week, an amount that can’t even buy a chocolate bar these days, or almost £20 that many of us can ill afford. It depends on your point of view and if the council does decide it needs more money, we need to ask residents’ views.

For the moment though, that rise is not on the cards.

Maintenance of our open spaces has been cut back, so several are looking unkempt. It’s hard to play football when the grass has not been cut for months. Our considerations will be about what it will cost, how we can do things better for less and what the people (including the children) of our town and parish want.

In the frame are places like the Recreation Ground, the open spaces behind Park Road, at Boilerworks Road, Troon and Pengegon.

One decision the council has already made is to recruit another member of staff to take much of the workload from our hardworking Clerk, Amanda and enable her to concentrate on the business case for our future. Welcome to Alec Webb, the new member of our team and on we go.

Camborne Library and the problem with devolution

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 07.14.03  On Thursday’s meeting of Camborne Town Council, some members of the public there were of the view that the library should be the first thing the town thinks about taking over.

One of the problems with this is the sheer complexity of running a library, the fact that we do not know yet what Cornwall Council will decided in their review and the thorny problem we always have:  the difficulty of getting information from Cornwall Council.

On example from the Camborne library costs that we were given is the drop in business rates paid from one year to the next. In 2013/4, the rates were £18411 – in 2014/5 they were £9538.  On asking why this drop in costs, Camborne Town Council was told ‘don’t know’.

It’s all very well talking about smaller councils taking over services and delivering them locally BUT, as on the spreadsheet, it is really important for the council to know whether overall costs are (as on the spreadsheet) going to be around £60,000 or around £30,000 a year.

This means a huge amount of work for our team at Camborne Town Council and especially for our Clerk, Amanda. It would help all of us if Cornwall Council had a robust idea of their costs and isn’t that really important for their own accounting and efficient running as well?

I am on the working party at Camborne Town Council, which is looking at devolved services and also on the Localism committee at Cornwall Council, so think I may be returning to this issue!

Camborne Library

Last night, Camborne Town Council began a small revolution. We embarked on a journey that could lead to Camborne taking on significant services in the town, from maintenance of open spaces to running the library.

This has to be considered carefully. We want to deliver services that matter to people in the town but keep any council tax rises to a minimum.

The Library rCamborne Libraryeview by Cornwall Council has roused passions in Camborne, most people feeling that a move to the council offices at Dolcoath would be unacceptable. Many are also concerned about the future of the Passmore Edwards building, which is a landmark in the town.

The building itself has already been registered as a community asset by Camborne Town Council. This means it cannot be sold off by Cornwall Council without giving the town an opportunity to buy it. Many of us are of the view that although Cornwall Council owns it now, morally it belongs to the people of Camborne and we will pursue this with Cornwall Council.

For the moment, we decided to register Camborne’s interest in taking over library services and focus first on our open spaces, parks and recreation grounds (including the toilets) which are being run down or closed by Cornwall Council.

The library service is really important and Cornwall Council has a statutory duty to provide library services, so their review must take that into account. We know also that the site of the library now is much more convenient that it would be at the Dolcoath Road offices but people in the town have made that clear to Cornwall Council, so let’s wait and see what they come up with.

Labour councillors are committed to doing all we can to maintain our library for the future in the best place for the people of the town to access it – which is Passmore Edwards. We want to make sure that we get the best deal for the town.

It is to the town’s advantage not to jump in and write a blank cheque but to wait and see what Cornwall Council comes up with from its review and then consider how to achieve the best outcome for our town.

Cornwall’s Local Plan going belly up?

Cornwall’s Local Plan is already several years overdue.  Because of this, Cornwall has no defences against developers who can rely on the Conservative governments ‘presumption in favour of development’.

The Local Plan has to be approved by government, which means it has to present a strong case, backed up by evidence. If not, the Inspector will throw it back to the council. If it needs a lot more work and councillors continue to ponder in slow motion, we could be looking at years before we have a strong Local Plan to inform development in future.

The Inspector has just thrown it back to the council, not for some minor issues but for major issues that go to the heart of the document. It’s not looking good.

The hearings due at the end of July have been postponed, which suggests we are in for another long haul and endless debate.

The Council in the meantime is making a case for Cornwall to be given more power over planning guidelines. Given the difficulty they are having coming up with any sort of credible plan at all, this seems a little peculiar. How on earth can Cornwall Council take more power when they can’t even get their act together on the powers they already have?

This is from the Communities and Devolution Planning Bulletin.

Cornwall Local Plan Examination – update
Examination expected to be put on hold

Following the submission of our Plan to the Secretary of State our Examination started on 18 May; this was the first set of hearings programmed, a second set were programmed for the end of July.

The purpose of the Examination is to ensure a fair hearing of views and see if the Plan (i) meets the Legal Tests and requirements and (ii) is Sound in planning terms.

Mr Emerson, the Inspector, will provide written advice to the Council on Monday 8 June. This will be based on his preliminary findings of the first week; however, he gave a clear indication that he will ask the Council to give further thought and suggest possible changes to the Plan on two main issues:
an increase to the overall housing target, in light of pressures from second homes, the backlog of affordable housing and other market signals outlined by national guidance; and

set out more clearly how the Economic Strategies of the Council and the LEP are supported by the Plan’s strategic policies. This is likely to include consideration of the purpose, quantity and distribution of land in the Plan for employment generating uses.
Mr Emerson’s advice might also cover other substantial issues that were considered during the first week, which included legal matters, delivery of affordable housing – this included close scrutiny of evidence on viability, Gypsies and Travellers, and minerals and waste policies.

Because of the likely delay, and to allow the Council time to carry out further work, Mr Emerson has postponed the second set of hearings that were scheduled for the end of July.

The letter of 8 June will set out Mr Emerson’s full advice which the Council will consider in full. Any changes will require Council approval and public consultation before being re-submitted for the Examination. This is likely be over the summer and autumn and the Examination could reconvene in the new year.

Difficult decision on Camborne market

One of the nicest things about being on Camborne Town Council is being able to support – with grants – the amazing range of voluntary organisations that come to us with requests.  Sometimes though it is not so easy – there is not enough money in the pot, we are restricted by the local government powers we have or, as in the case of Camborne Produce Market, councillors are unsure how to act for the best.

That is what happened last night, when the Produce Market came to us for money toward new gazebos. The Camborne Produce Market is run by the Camborne Regeneration Forum but has a separate budget, comprised of money it makes from stall rents.

The problem for us was the line between a commercial venture and a voluntary organisation.  Was buying new gazebos the equivalent of, say, paying for new signage for a shop in the street?  Would the council be subsidising commercial ventures to make a profit?

The Camborne Produce Market has been very successful we were told, so much so that it is now being held every week instead of every month. It also seemed that the stall charges were very low, so maybe it is time to consider raising them a little to invest in the infrastructure?

Would it be different if the stalls and gazebos could be used at other times for community events? Maybe.

Isn’t it also good for the town to attract more people in to spend money?

Yes, but if a local shop had a promotion on, would we pay towards it? I doubt it.

In the end, the council played safe and refused the grant but with some misgivings. I’d be interested to know what people in the town make of that.

There were some really worthwhile applications that were supported: Camborne Town Band, who are doing a cracking job with their music, promoting Camborne, engaging young people and entertaining us all; Camborne Football Club, a group of friends who got together and have been really successful in building a team and creating another sporting opportunity in the town; Camborne Cricket Club, who are really moving forward, updating their ground and facilities and improving an already fantastic club.

There were others too, well deserved. The grants are so important to the town and I wonder, at this time of austerity, whether we should allocate more to help people who are doing so much for our community.

And I am still pondering about Camborne Produce Market!