This seems like a natural point to start this blog, at Newquay Town Council (NTC) we’ve just held out annual meeting – it’s basically Civic AGM with lots of essential business that marks the transition from one Civic year to the next. The election of the new Mayor and their Deputy is one of the first orders of business followed by the selection of councillors to various committees and the election of the Chair of each committee, I’d thrown my hat into the ring to be considered for Chair of the Planning and Licensing (P&L) committee and had prepared well for the expected contested election up against one of my colleague councillors. Preparing for these meetings is a huge task when taken seriously, ploughing through 600+ pages of documents as well as the nerves that always come with putting yourself forward for election aren’t necessarily two things that complement each other!
At our previous meeting I’d pushed hard to hold our annual meeting, coronavirus regulations mean councils don’t have to hold them this year but I firmly believe that it’s important for local government to be seen functioning as normally as possible, facing and overcoming similar challenges that the people we represent are facing every day is important, it not only shows we are genuinely in it together but gives us a better understanding of those challenges first hand. It’s fair to say NTC has reacted well to the Covid-19 emergency, but I thought it was time for us to move from a solely reactive phase and become proactive, for that reason I’d also proposed the creation of a regeneration working party to look at cross community issues and how we help to get Newquay back on it’s feet from the effects of the coronavirus. Working parties shed the formality and minuted nature of normal council meetings and enable a much more fluid approach to issues.
So back to the annual meeting where there was a lot of heavy line by line checking of stuff and thankfully few political shenanigans, as the sole Labour voice on NTC I can sit back and watch some of the Liberals and some of the Conservatives trying to knock lumps off each other, the unfortunate upshot being that my opponent for Chair of P&L was knocked out of the contest by a motion that was a thinly veiled attack on the committee. I didn’t like winning by default in this situation – especially as I take the time to prepare well and canvass support so I was disappointed not to be able to make my pitch and I was even more disappointed for the shabby way my opponent had been treated, I’m genuinely upset that he’s decided to resign as a councillor altogether.
I’d felt the need to challenge for Chair of P&L for some time, we do suffer because of the public’s general perception of ‘planners’ based largely on misconceptions and assumptions, it’s a perception I don’t agree with and one I’m going to challenge. Planning and Licensing is often people’s only experience of interacting formally with Town Councils and anecdotally members of the public seem to have a more positive view of our committee than they do of wider planning in general, a view I hope to build on to protect and improve the image of the Council and those members and officers who fulfil this busy and visible role. The Written Ministerial Statement on Planning stated that “The Government expects everyone involved in the planning process to engage proactively” and that’s what people are going to see. There are opportunities for us to be much more on the front foot than we have at some times recently, I’ve been very visible supporting council policy and supporting my colleagues both on P&L and on the wider council during some very difficult exchanges on social media in the last few week. Sadly and not unexpectedly some of the exchanges descended into outright homophobia, I dealt with them and received some welcome support from another councillor – the immediacy of social media seems to have increased the ability of unpleasant people to say unpleasant things.
That’s about it for my first councillor blog – this one has hopefully started to set the scene and the rest will keep people informed as the story unfolds.
Stay safe, be well.
Newquay Town Council
Covid reporting, Care Homes Funding, “The Cornwall We Want” survey & How Council Spend could benefit Cornwall
Cornwall Council Report 27/6/20 - Jayne Kirkham - Labour Councillor for Falmouth Smithick
There have been concerns about the reporting of Covid cases. There had been 594 in Cornwall as at 22 June and 203 deaths as of 12 June. Since then there have been outbreaks in 2 care homes. Only Pillar 1 cases are being reported which are the NHS tested ones. The government are not releasing the Pillar 2 figures to the public. These are the tests done from the mobile testing centres by the private providers. This is because of inaccuracies. This means that the figures are likely to be quite a bit higher than those reported.
On 17 May, additional funding for care homes as an infection control grant was announced, with Cornwall receiving an allocation of £6.7m. Based on 5,272 registered care homes beds, this equates to £962 per placement in Cornwall which is being distributed. Care homes and domicillary care providers finally have most of the PPE they need. We are still concerned that staff and residents in care homes are currently only entitled to be tested once. Repeated testing is the only way to prevent the spread of Covid in care settings like the one that has just happened at Pengover. Information about cases is still not making its way from the national Test and Trace service to local Public Health officers.
The council have done a survey on ‘the Cornwall we Want’ - https://letstalk.cornwall.gov.uk/the-cornwall-we-want It’s about how the changes that have happened during the Covid pandemic have affected Cornwall and where to go next. Please have your say.
The hospitality industry re-opens on 4 July and bookings are already mounting for the rest of the tourist season. The Council and Visit Cornwall can do little more than encourage holidaymakers to book accommodation and day trips well ahead, follow social distancing guidelines while they’re here and help businesses to re-open as safely as possible
My motion on Cornwall Council adopting a Preston Labour Council style model of procurement has been accepted to go on the agenda of the full council meeting on 7 July, after much effort. It is gaining cross-party support. It is hard to object to the Council using its spend to benefit the people, climate and economy of Cornwall, after all! I am hoping that after all the work we have done on the wording to make it comply with competition and procurement law, that the Chair of the Council accepts it for debate.
We had a member briefing on the economic impact of Covid and the potential recovery on Friday. The most startling facts were that there were 24,876 Universal Credit claimants in Cornwall in March and that had risen to approx. 47,500 in May. The number of people claiming UC has doubled in St Ives in 2 months. The estimated potential job losses as a result of Covid in Cornwall are 72,800. Over half are in the retail, accommodation and food sectors. Approximately 60,900 people are furloughed in the county, with 24,800 of them likely to work in accommodation and food. Newquay has 56% of its workforce employed in the shut-down sectors. That’s half the town not working. Non-grocery sales in Penzance have dropped by 89%.. The worry is that as the furlough scheme is withdrawn, many more people will be made redundant.
We had the Cabinet meeting virtually on Wednesday which was a more wooden experience than a normal meeting. However, many more members of the public and councillors were able to attend, so it has widened participation. I gave a brief summary of the Covid report on the agenda in last week’s briefing. I was able to raise some questions on behalf of the Labour Group in Cabinet and asked:
There are coronavirus mobile testing centres at Falmouth Rugby Club between 10.30am – 4pm and St Austell Information Service between 10.30am – 3.30pm. To book a test use:
Jayne Kirkham – Cornwall Councillor for Falmouth Smithick
Cornwall Council’s Cabinet meet virtually on Wednesday for the first time since March.
The agenda is here - https://democracy.cornwall.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=577&MId=9546&Ver=4 - including a rundown of what the council officers have been doing since lockdown. The public should be able to virtually attend and watch.
The main item of interest will be the Council’s report on the actions taken since the Covid crisis began in March. Item 6 on the agenda is a report to the Cabinet on the council’s emergency response and a request that the ‘emergency decisions’ made by the CEO and other officers as set out in Appendix 3 be endorsed and ratified by Cabinet.
14 ‘emergency cells’ were set up to respond to the crisis. Between 24 March and 26 May 10,500 emails were sent to the email@example.com address. There were 2 million visits to the website. However, calls to council call centres dropped by 25.57% (probably because no council tax reminders were issued or business rates chased). There was a reduction of 88% in the council’s printing bill. 71% of our Covid deaths in Cornwall were men. There was a 401% increase in applications for free school meals and a 142% increase in council tax support claims.
The council has estimated that the Covid crisis has meant a £10.8 million net loss for the council, plus the lost council tax, business rates revenue and pressure on services which is yet to be quantified. The various funding from central government is set out at appendix 2 - https://democracy.cornwall.gov.uk/documents/s135386/Cornwall%20Councils%20response%20to%20Coronavirus%20and%20our%20approach%20to%20recovery%20and%20renewal%20-%20Appendix%202%20Fun.pdf
Examples of the ‘cells’ and decisions that have been taken are:
3. Housing Cell - At 500, double the number of households than normal needed temporary accommodation.
4. The Business Cell - Dealt with the business grants. There is a 61% increase of people in Cornwall who are claiming Universal Credit.
Full information is at Appendix 1 of the agenda https://democracy.cornwall.gov.uk/documents/s135385/Cornwall%20Councils%20response%20to%20Coronavirus%20and%20our%20approach%20to%20recovery%20and%20renewal%20-%20Appendix%201%20Sum.pdf
The next full council meeting is on 7 July. I have prepared a motion based on the work that Labour councils in Preston and Manchester are doing to try to ensure that the council considers social value and climate impact when it uses its spending power. This would benefit workers and the local economy. It is getting quite a bit of support across the council which is positive, if a little surprising!
Cornwall Councillor for Falmouth Smithick
Cornwall Council Report – 6 June 2020
Our Friday councillors’ briefing this week was on the new test and tracing system.
On 11 March, Cornwall Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee were told that Cornwall had 5 cases of Covid19. On 12 March we were told the government had abandoned trying to trace everyone the infected persons had come into contact with.
On Wednesday afternoon – 27 May, council leaders were told that the government’s test and trace system would begin at 9am the next morning, Thursday 28 May. Despite the new guidance saying that local authorities would have their own ‘outbreak control plans’ for workplaces, housing complexes, care homes and schools, councils were only told this on 22 May and had less than 24 hours’ notice of the launch of the government’s system. Like other local authorities, CC was not consulted about the testing process, or the script used by contact tracers, or any aspect of the contact tracing app. There are no additional powers to enact the ‘local lockdown’ plans and no guidance from government about what that response should be.
On 1 June we had 576 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Cornwall and 15 new cases in the last 5 days. 25% of our care homes have had or are having an outbreak.
On 15 June non-essential shops in many of the town centres are due to re-open. Towns are working to make sure this can be done safely and that social distancing can be observed. Roads will be closed to cars where necessary and planning restrictions not enforced so cafes and other traders can use the streets and public spaces. The £half million of government funding for this will be split pretty much on a per capita basis.
In the meantime, most Council decisions are still being made by a ‘core group’ of mainly officers. For example, the money given to keep the airport afloat. Cabinet restarts in the middle of this month and scrutiny committees are also meeting.
Sadly, due to a lack of provision, the Council are still looking for sites to put more emergency mobile housing, or a hotel, guest house or any other property suitable for being used as move on accommodation for the people who have become homeless during this pandemic. 260 people were housed, which is a number over 4 times higher than November’s rough sleeper count in Cornwall. If anyone has any leads for accommodation in Falmouth, please get in touch. firstname.lastname@example.org
Cornwall Councillor for Falmouth Smithick
This blog will be created by members of the Exec committee on topics of interest to the St Austell & Newquay Labour Party