Constitutional changes, democratic decision making, opposition to the Planning White Paper, contract awarding, COVID testing, & budgets ....
Council Report 26/9/20 - Jayne Kirkham
Last week we had sessions on the budget as well as a full council meeting and I attended a Health and Adult Social Care Scrutiny Committee meeting.
Full council agenda can be found here - https://democracy.cornwall.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=584&MId=9693&Ver=4
We debated some changes to the constitution. I was concerned about the provisions checking meetings in the pre-election period, argued against too much restriction, and did not vote for them.
There were 3 members’ motions.
The first was to speed up the restoration of democratic decision making in the council. Our group leader, Stephen Barnes, made a robust speech in support. The motion passed.
The second motion was a cross party motion asking the Council to make clear its opposition to the government’s Planning White Paper. There are serious concerns about the way it could affect Cornwall’s housing allocation, affordable housing and delay the onus on developers to build zero carbon housing until 2050! Many Tory councils in the shires have struggled to support this White Paper and the Conservatives on Cornwall Council were between a rock and a hard place. In the end only a few supported their own government’s white paper and most abstained. The motion passed.
My motion to change the constitution as a result of the lack of democracy in awarding the contract for extra care housing to Mears was referred to the Constitution & Governance Committee, where I shall pursue it.
Questions to Cabinet members focused on Covid measures. The withdrawal of testing capacity from Cornwall had been a real issue. Covid cases have been rising with outbreaks in food factories and educational establishments. I asked what officials were doing to make sure that Covid-19 patients were not discharged from hospital to care homes or home with domiciliary care without adequate preparation. At least 136 residents were not tested before entering the homes in Cornwall before 15 April in the last spike.
A consultation on the budget has begun with each scrutiny committee being asked to look at its own department. The gap for 2021/22 is growing and voluntary redundancies are sought. We will be working closely with the council’s unions during the consultation. And making sure that any council buildings and land are offered to be devolved to parish and town councils, to the community or as sites for social housing before anything is put to the open market. We have on the record assurance from the Council Leader that this, at least, will happen.
COVID testing, ‘transformational’ budget, Local Government Pensions Scheme, & forthcoming Health Scrutiny Meeting
Report dated 19/9/20
This week I had a stream of residents contact me over the seeming impossibility of getting a Covid test now the schools are back and children are picking up viruses from each other. Pillar 2 testing (the national testing system) had been pulled out of Cornwall to go to other places with higher Covid-19 numbers and local Public Health and NHS tests (Pillar 1) only had about 100 tests per day extra capacity. This has been happening nationally too. Unfortunately, initially, our Cornish MPs did not seem convinced the problem was a real one and thought people were asking for tests when they didn’t need them(?!). After gathering and providing evidence they quickly accepted the problem. It would be more helpful if Cornwall could grasp the nettle and set up its own Testing and Tracing system rather than meekly wait for instruction from central government. We have had 1,086 Covid cases so far in Cornwall. If we do not have adequate testing we will lose our grip on how many cases we have and our ability to cope with local outbreaks.
This week the Cabinet discussed and passed the ‘transformational’ budget. There is a full council meeting on Tuesday when the capital programme will be updated and constitutional issues voted on. The link to the agenda and webcast is here -https://democracy.cornwall.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=584&MId=9693&Ver=4 The 3 motions about the planning system, hybrid meetings and my Call In motion are in that agenda too.
I was also at a Pensions Committee meeting of the LGPS (Local Government Pension Scheme) meeting last week. If you are a member of the LGPS and feel strongly about divestment/Responsible Investment principles and your organisation has declared a Climate Emergency or committed to the Paris targets or de-carbonisation by 2030, please contact the scheme managers to let them know this and ask your organisation to do so too.
Cornwall Pension Fund
Fourth Floor, South Wing,
New County Hall,
Next week there will also be a Health Scrutiny meeting - https://democracy.cornwall.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=1153&MId=9518&Ver=4 We will be discussing the budget and integration of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust and the Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. Also, do you or anyone you know work in Care and not get paid properly if you have to be off work isolating due to Covid-19? Please let me know if so.
Council Budget, Asset disposal, Responsible Procurement, more house-building but less affordable, & challenging decisions
There was already a big hole in Cornwall Council's budget next year, which Covid has only exacerbated. Papers for the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday (https://democracy.cornwall.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=577&MId=9548&Ver=4) show that the Council intend to speed up their 'transformation' agenda to try and fill the gap, including a voluntary redundancy scheme. The papers also mention using the Covid crisis and more people working from home to 'dispose of assets'. It is vital that all local authority owned land and buildings are offered to the community, town and parish councils and to the housing department to see if they are suitable for council housing, before anything is offered for sale on the open market. Cabinet are also being asked to approve using money set aside for spaceport to bail out the airport.
The full council meets on 22 September. Motions from councillors include one condemning the government's planning white paper (which looks like it could lead to a bigger housebuilding target for Cornwall, yet fewer affordable homes) and one about having hybrid council meetings.
Last month, myself and 2 members of the Health Scrutiny Committee attempted to 'call-in' the decision to award a huge contract to national company Mears to build sheltered style housing in Cornwall, so our committee could scrutinise it. Our application was rejected by the legal officer. Therefore, I have tabled a motion that tries to make the rules for challenging Cabinet decisions more objective and transparent. The full press story on it is here - https://cornishstuff.com/2020/09/09/mears-contract-provokes-call-in-motion-to-council/
Safer Cornwall, a question on democracy, COVID testing & questions for Labour’s Regional Executive Committee rep.
Councillor's Report - 5/9/20
Safer Cornwall is a Cornwall Council led collaboration between agencies that focuses on towns and safety and community issues. I am on the Safer Falmouth committee. The pandemic has led to a rise in homelessness, street drinking, domestic violence and drug use and dealing has gone up. It often feels like the resources we do have are hideously stretched and we are involved in a merry-go-round of moving the limited resources from place to place when there is an issue. For example, our ASB officer and homeless outreach officer in Falmouth cover a vast area right up to the Tamar. They have been pulled up to St Austell because of recent issues and we have suffered their loss in Falmouth. Street homelessness is on the rise again and Cornwall has been so busy since the ease of lockdown with visitors. Our action should be about prevention, but it has ended up being reactive when things hit crisis level. Drug and Alcohol Treatment and homelessness often get overlooked by councillors in favour of potholes and funding has steadily fallen. The pandemic meant that a light was at least shone on street homelessness, some emergency accommodation was found and the Council via Cornwall Housing has hired new outreach officers to help support some of the people housed in move on accommodation. Much more needs to be done to help people to stay housed and improve our woeful mental health support though.
There has been controversy this week about CC's policy of keeping staff and councillors working from home longer term. Steve Double staged a question in the House of Commons to enable Jacob Rees Mogg, from a virtually empty chamber, to air the government's pushing people back to work in offices policy while slating the LibDem council. There have been times where democracy has suffered in Cornwall during the pandemic. Decisions were made by officers under emergency powers. The Mears decision that I tried to call in was not subjected to full scrutiny because of Covid measures. The last full council meeting was limited by Microsoft Teams 4 hour time limit, so some councillors were not heard. Whether it's virtual, or hybrid, or in person, we need full democracy to be restored. There is a full council meeting on 22 Sept at 10am. All are welcome to join virtually. https://democracy.cornwall.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=584&MId=9693&Ver=4
Regarding Covid testing, capacity is being pulled from Cornwall to go to other areas with a higher prevalence of cases. Not a sensible policy considering our recent visitor levels and the return of schools and university students. The local NHS are trying to fill the gap, but it is unhelpful.
And on a final note, it is the Regional Executive Committee meeting on 12 September. I will be there as one of the 2 Cornwall CLP reps. I have attached the agenda. If anyone has a point they wish me to raise at that meeting, or a question, please let me know on firstname.lastname@example.org and pass it onto members.
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