What will the Shared Prosperity Fund look like & can it deliver #TheCornwallWeWant as outlined by the public consultation?
Cornwall Council Report 11/10/20
This week we had an Economy briefing where officers were trying to second guess what the Shared Prosperity Fund would look like. Remembering that Boris Johnson promised that Cornwall’s lost EU money would be replaced ‘pound for pound’. So that’s about £700 million. We have no proof that promise will be honoured.
There was a short summary briefing of the results of ‘the Cornwall We Want’ public budget consultation. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the people of Cornwall want these things prioritised:
Cornwall Council Report - 3/10/20 - Jayne Kirkham
This week Cornwall Council bailed out GLL, who are the charitable company that have a 25 year contract to run most of Cornwall’s leisure centres, with a £6million mixture of grants and loans. They also offered to support the remaining leisure centres run by other organisations. The government has only stepped in to support directly managed leisure services, leaving Cornwall in the lurch. The money will have to come out of the Council’s reserves, which are already depleted due to Covid. https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/council-news-room/media-releases/news-from-2020/news-from-september-2020/council-steps-in-to-help-cornwall-leisure-centres-open-next-month-and-calls-on-government-to-step-up-to-secure-their-future/
The council were between a rock and a hard place, but aside from the concern about handing over Cornish taxpayers’ money to a national company, that company still do not pay their Cornish workers a foundation living wage. No conditions on minimum pay for staff or maximum pricing for children’s swimming clubs & lessons (which have been raised dramatically over the last couple of years) were attached to the bailout, despite the Labour Group’s representations.
Maybe contracting out our precious assets on a 25 year contract to save cash, rather than directly managing them, wasn’t the best idea. And maybe our MPs should have been fighting harder for central government support for Cornwall.
We are fighting for a separate deal to save Princess Pavilions.
This week I have spent a lot of time working on local issues in Falmouth. Residents’ flooding issues, a proposed new cycle route from Penryn to Falmouth where a bid has gone in for the government’s ‘Active Travel’ pot, parking and Covid-19. There have been a few cases of university students coming to our universities with the illness and some students are isolating. It is important that they isolate successfully and that everyone in the town continues to take measures to stay safe. If anyone thinks they may need a test, the how and when are here - https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/health-and-social-care/public-health-cornwall/information-about-coronavirus-covid-19/your-health-symptoms-and-staying-safe/getting-tested-for-covid-19/
The Council’s Public Health team have also been taken up with the outbreak at the Tulip/Pilgrim’s Pride factory in Pool which hit the national news - https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-cornwall-54361824
There are ongoing consultations on the budget - https://letstalk.cornwall.gov.uk/budget and rubbish, recycling, beach and street cleaning - https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/biffasurvey
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.
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.
A full on week at Cornwall Council.
On Monday I found out that my Preston-style local spend council motion won’t be progressed until September due to officer holidays in August. However, I did meet with the cabinet member and the chief officer and they are already working on it. I am doing a Labour Business zoom to gather support for it organised by our brilliant LCF business officer, Gareth Looker on 11 August at 12.30pm if anyone is interested to find out more. Do contact me – email@example.com
I spent time at Falmouth Placeshaping meetings sorting out a bid for Falmouth to get some money to improve the town centre and make the town centre safer for people and social distancing. Thank you to Kate and Austin who helped put down the stickers and stencils in the shops and on the streets to remind people to wear facemasks, social distance and use the one way ‘To the Left’ (of course!) walking system in Falmouth. When I went into town the next day, it was busy, but people were only sporadically keeping left, unfortunately. I also attended the first, embryonic meeting to plan joined up cycle routes between Penryn and Falmouth after a year of working with CC Transport officers and the university and cycle groups. We just need the funding now!
In County Hall news, Cabinet met on Wednesday. The main controversy, other than the large hole in the budget and the discussion on the Climate Change development plan document that I mentioned last week, was over the plan to build ‘extra care housing’ for the elderly and other people who need support with living. Care and community provision would be available on site, but each resident would have their own front door. The idea itself is one that is helpful for housing provision in Cornwall, but the controversy was over the choice of just one ‘strategic partner’ to deliver it. A large national company called Mears. Effectively, a privatised service. Many of us raised objections and an emergency health and adult social care scrutiny briefing has been arranged.
On Friday we discovered that the government has decided to claw back the undistributed business grant money meaning that 3,500 Cornish businesses who applied have been left short. This has become a dispute between the Tory government and the LibDem council in which the Cornish businesses and workers have been the ones to lose out.
Jayne Kirkham- Cornwall Councillor for Falmouth Smithick
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