The day after the Labour Group released our statement on the desperate need to extend the private rental sector evictions ban in Cornwall, the Housing Cabinet member for Cornwall Council did the same. Hopefully, by the time you read this, the Conservative government will finally have done it. Statement here –
‘Cornwall is on the brink of another Housing Crisis’
Because of the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic, the Government took action several months ago to protect households renting their homes from private landlords from eviction.
We are very concerned that from next Monday (August 24th) The Landlords of Private Rented Homes will again be free to evict their tenants whenever it suits them.
We call upon Cornwall’s MPs to follow the example set in Scotland and support the extension of protection from eviction for a further six months, during which time must the Government must find ways to fix our broken housing system that will protect tenants.
There is an unacceptable risk that if our Government allows this protection to expire, several thousand people in Cornwall, including many families looking after children, who, because of the current economic situation are having difficulty paying their rent, or who have a landlord who wants to take advantage of the current property boom in second homes/holiday lets, will be forced into homelessness.
Quite apart from the distress and disruption caused to those affected, enormous pressure will be placed upon Cornwall Council, the organisation responsible for helping the homeless.
20% of Cornish households live in private rented homes.
However such households include a quarter of young people under 20 and one in three children under 5.
Even before the pandemic, the gap between local housing costs and local wages put many local families under severe financial pressure.
The current situation has led to a big increase in the number of Cornish household needing to claim benefits to pay their rent.
In two thirds of such cases benefit payments are capped at level lower, often much lower, than the rent being charged.
I met this week with the Chair of the Cornwall Council Customers Scrutiny Committee, the Cabinet member in charge of the Council’s supply contracts (Mike Eathorne Gibbons) and council officers.
Customers Scrutiny Committee have voted to set up a formal Inquiry Working Group with the title "collect evidence from local suppliers and the voluntary and community sectors, ascertain the barriers to them working more with Cornwall Council and look at setting up new targets for Social Value and best practice from other authorities. We discussed the scope of the Inquiry and witnesses to give evidence to it. They will be approaching local businesses and I also suggested Neil McInroy from the National Organisation for Local Economies (CLES - https://cles.org.uk/) who helped Labour Councils in Preston and Manchester with their community wealthbuilding approaches, and people from those Councils. They will also ask the Cornwall Voluntary and Community Sector Forum. They intend to meet 5 times and produce a report by Christmas.
A Cabinet decision must come out on the motion within 6 months of it going to full Council (which was 7 July). That means the work the officers and Cabinet do should match up with the work of the Scrutiny Inquiry. We need new contract rules passed well before May because of the risk of it getting lost in the election morass.
However, it is looking more positive and like some real work has been going on behind the scenes.
The Council continues with their online consultation events for residents about what sort of Cornwall we want as we adapt to Covid. This one includes the Housing and Transport Cabinet members so is a good one to attend and input loudly to:
The Cornwall Council Climate Change Planning Development Document is still open for consultation and comments. Link here -https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/media/44143259/climate-emergency-dpd-2-v2.pdf?fbclid=IwAR0y_usKuYP6Poqf4LX4k6-oJ2qBCJMgmVsCJ3dMbXck4zkH60-oiSFksFY. The original Cornwall Council Climate Change Plan from last July can be found here - https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/media/40176082/climate-change-action-plan.pdf
Attempting to “call in” a Council decision, the Government Planning White Paper & future home working
There are few formal council meetings during August. But there is still a lot going on.
The dispute about our attempt to 'call in' the council decision to award a 30 year contract to Mears for extra care housing rumbles on. It has now been picked up by the mainstream press. https://www.falmouthpacket.co.uk/news/18626471.call-cornwall-council-constitution-change-call-in-blocked/
Call for Cornwall Council constitution change over care homes | Falmouth Packet
A group of cross-party councillors say that Cornwall Council’s constitution should be changed after they were blocked from calling in a decision to sign a 30-year contract to provide extra care homes. Cornwall Council’s Cabinet last month approved plans to sign a deal with Gloucestershire-based ...
The government has published its new planning white paper which has struck fear into the hearts of local planning authorities. All those local plans we spent years designing and getting made up now look obsolete. The worry is that local control is lost and we end up with even more poor quality housing in the wrong places. And losing our town centres. https://cornishstuff.com/2020/08/07/jenricks-new-planning-framework-a-disaster-for-cornwall/
The Council are hiring a new chief finance officer with a 'transformational' brief. Since Covid struck, most council employees have been working from home. All offices other than the 3 biggest in Truro, Camborne and Bodmin are shut and numbers in those 3 reduced to about a tenth due to 2 metre social distancing measures. The Council having been undertaking staff surveys and it looks as though the plan may be for homeworking to become the norm in the future with council buildings being sold off/converted. However, this doesn't suit all staff and unions are worried that staff will be pushed in that direction regardless.
I also had a meeting about the Tour of Britain which has been re-scheduled for September 2021.
The money for 'active travel' in town centres looks like it will come through. We are putting in a bid for Falmouth town centre and other towns are likely to be doing the same.
Cornwall Council Report 1/8/20 - Jayne Kirkham - Falmouth Smithick
This week I tried to 'call in' a council decision. Cornwall Council Cabinet have decided to award a massive contract for 'extra care' housing (a bit like the old sheltered housing with care provided on site) to a national company called Mears. Mears have run all sorts of operations before - housing for asylum seekers in Scotland, care, council housing maintenance in places like London and Brighton. They are reported as having a chequered track record. They are a huge company and took over Mitie (which is a name you may know from the recent pay dispute at Treliske). They were the only bidder for the Extra Care contract in the end and the decision did not go through the appropriate scrutiny committee due to Covid. The trades unions and others raised concerns with me about Mears and I was already concerned that such a big contract was going to one national company (so much for local procurement). I spoke to other members of the Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee, who were worried about the finance details of the deal, and 3 of us 'called the decision in' on a cross-party basis. It's a formal process meaning that we asked for it to be looked at again by the Scrutiny committee. It's very rare that a council decision gets called in in Cornwall. We found out on friday that the Council's chief legal officer hasn't accepted our application! We are reviewing the detail of the decision over the weekend and deciding our next steps.
We also had a Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny meeting. The first since 11 March when we had had just 5 Covid cases in Cornwall. We had briefings on the Covid response and last year's public health report. Papers are here - The deputy director of Public Health reported that the authority is taking on more responsibility for the tracing local cases and getting more detailed information from the national track and trace system (at last).
It seems there may be money available for cycling infrastructure from central government and we are working on putting a speedy bid in for some of it for Falmouth and Penryn.
You will have seen that Johnson has relaxed restrictions on working hours on construction sites. Many developers in Falmouth are now trying to work 7 days per week, which is really difficult when the builds are in residential areas. I am working with CC to challenge some of these.
And we also had the Labour leader in my division. He spent an afternoon in Falmouth meeting with people trying to run and work in local businesses in the town throughout Covid. His team are planning a members' event when the Covid restrictions on gatherings are over and hopefully we'll get some front bench support for the local elections next May too.
This blog will be created by members of the Exec committee or by local Labour Councillors on topics of interest to the St Austell & Newquay Labour Party