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 week I attended Economy Scrutiny for Cllr Olivier who has had an operation.
The Climate Change Planning document was discussed. This is the first draft of it -https://democracy.cornwall.gov.uk/documents/s136488/Climate%20Emergency%20DPD%20-%20Appendix%202.pdf This will now go to Cabinet and there will be a full consultation afterwards. If it goes through then it should come in in early 2021. Not bad going for a planning document! If you are interested in the Climate Emergency response, this is definitely worth reading and commenting upon.
The other large document discussed at that meeting was the Cornwall Economic Recovery and Renewal Plan – report here -https://democracy.cornwall.gov.uk/documents/s136500/Economic%20Recovery%20and%20Renewal%20Plan.pdf and the draft plan here - https://democracy.cornwall.gov.uk/documents/s136501/Economic%20Recovery%20and%20Renewal%20Plan%20-%20Appendix%201.pdf. This drew some criticism from councillors on some of the ‘command and control’ language. The consultation for the public can be found here - https://letstalk.cornwall.gov.uk/the-cornwall-we-want
We then had a briefing about the Council’s ‘Carbon Neutral Ambitions’ on Friday. The interesting thing about much of this is that the Council, in pursuing a Climate Emergency agenda (encouraging staff to remain working from home, stopping printing, commuting and business miles) is moving in the other direction from the Government who appear to be encouraging people to get back to their offices and workplaces from next month. The Kate Raworth style ‘decision making wheel’ is being rolled out for more council decisions. I suggested it is also adopted for when the council chooses contractors. I am discussing how to progress my Local Spend motion with the Cabinet member and key officer next week.
There are ambitious plans to retrofit Cornwall Housing homes, but so far the money has only been promised from government to ‘zero carbon’ 83 homes. With the hope of a less comprehensive retrofit on a further 600 homes. Still nowhere near where we need to get to considering how much our housing contributes to our carbon footprint. They are also looking at a biomethane pilot on County Farms and renewable energy. Nothing near as bold as ambitious as we need unfortunately, or that we would have with Labour’s Green New Deal.
For more info look at the ‘Carbon Neutral Cornwall Hive’ here - https://letstalk.cornwall.gov.uk/carbon-neutral-cornwall
To contact me – firstname.lastname@example.org
Up to date Covid figures for Cornwall now all the pillar 2 data has been shared (from the private mobile test centres and care homes and postal tests) were finally released this month.
The cumulative number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly stands at 889 as at 6 July which is a rate of 156.5 per 100,000. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly now has the 3rd lowest rate of Councils in England.
205 deaths have been registered for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly residents (up to and including the 26 June) which mentioned COVID-19; accounting for 6% of all deaths over the period.
Overall, there was 1 additional COVID-19 related deaths from the previous week, in a care home.
It has also been made public that 136 people were released from hospital to care homes without testing or test results being known in early April in Cornwall.
The chancellor made his summer statement
There is a focus on the hospitality industry to force it back to life with VAT cuts and hot food vouchers. Encouraging people to go on holiday and to spend in restaurants. That means coming to places like Cornwall. People are still wary. Test and trace is not functioning nearly as well as it should be to build people’s confidence, despite the £10 bn price tag that predominantly went to private companies. This isn’t a normal recession. 50% off a burger won’t be enough for people who are scared to go out, and nor should it be.
On the face of it the government are bringing back the Labour Future Jobs Fund. A focus on jobs for 16-24 year olds is welcome. But what about the self-employed and renters and those who are unemployed?
De-carbonising public buildings and housing is also welcome. However, we only get the money to pilot this in 83 Cornwall Housing homes in Cornwall. Where are the bold green energy schemes like in Germany’s response? Our geo-thermal, wind, tidal and solar resources are just sat here in Cornwall, waiting for investment to kickstart our green industrial revolution.
Along with the relaxation of planning laws, it is hard to see how a stamp duty holiday will help Cornwall unless it is limited to first time buyers or first home owners. As it stands, it will just make second homes that bit more affordable and end up depleting the housing stock when what we really need are more truly affordable council homes. Much of the business support grants in Cornwall have already gone to second home owners. https://cornishstuff.com/2020/06/23/71m-paid-to-holiday-home-owners/
We had a full council meeting on Tuesday and most of our 122 councillors managed to participate.
My motion on local council spend was referred to Cabinet and we had a vote on whether Cornwall should pilot voting at 16. The council voted in favour, but surprisingly, only narrowly. I spoke in favour & the Labour group voted for it. (See number 9 - https://leftfootforward.org/2020/07/radical-roundup-10-stories-that-got-buried-this-week-5/)
Jayne Kirkham- Cornwall Councillor for Falmouth Smithick
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
This blog will be created by members of the Exec committee on topics of interest to the St Austell & Newquay Labour Party