Thursday, 11 September 2014

Council Tax

Its budget planning time up at Cornwall Council and once again cuts to services and facilities is the order of the day and once again there are calls for town and parish councils to take over some of these services and facilities, with some reports that Town and Parish councils could take over the running of up to £34m worth of services but is this a realistic possibility?

There are 212 Town and Parish Councils in Cornwall and there is a lot of variation between them.

All Town and Parish councils get the vast amount of their funding the same way, the precept. When you get your council tax bill from Cornwall Council it’s made up of 3 elements, the largest is the money that goes to Cornwall Council, the next is the amount that goes to the Police, these are the same for every property in the same housing band across the county, the 3rd element and by far the smallest amount is the Town and Parish council Precept, this is the money that your Town or Parish Council has set in its budget to collect from every property in the parish so this amount varies depending on where you live.

That variation can be quite large with two councils in Cornwall collecting over £200, fifteen over £100, five collecting nothing and various amounts in-between, my own council Penzance Town Council collects £85.32 for a band D property, this is on the low side for the larger councils. 

The fact that this tax is raised on the number of properties in the parish and not people does bring up some interesting numbers: Newquay  population 19,900 has 6825 band D equivalent properties: Penzance population 21,200 has 6417 properties: Truro population 23,000 has 6139 properties. So Newquay with a population over 3,000 less than Truro raises its precept on nearly 700 more properties.

The total sum raised by this precept for 2014/15 by the 212 Town and Parish Councils in Cornwall is £13,598,097.90, in contrast Cornwall Council will raise £223.214m in council tax and a further £922.977m  in other tax and income.

So is it realistic for Town & Parish councils to take on and run up to £34m of services and facilities when their current total income is less than £14m? 

To do this would require a big hike in Town and Parish Council incomes but and it’s a huge but, not for all. The burden would fall mostly on the few large towns, there are 11 towns in Cornwall with populations over 10,000 (if you include Camborne/Pool/Redruth as CC does as one) and of these only 5 are over 20,000. It’s to this small group of towns and their residents that the largest burden will fall. 

There are 33 libraries in Cornwall pressure is already mounting on these towns to take them on.

For example: My own council, Penzance Town Council currently has a full time office staff of 4 and from our precept of £85.32 we raise just over £547,489, we also have income from 1 car park we own. From this income we run a Art Gallery & Museum, public park and playgrounds, skateboard park, town centre CCTV, 9 allotment fields, chapel of remembrance, Golowan Festival also support for other festivals and events, Christmas Lights, open air theatre. care and maintenance of a cemetery, care and maintenance of over 20 kilometres of public footpaths, we give financial support to other groups in the town, the list goes on.
In addition to this, we have in the past few years been asked to take on the public toilets in the town, replace the pavement/roadside weed spraying. The Jubilee Pool could also fall under the control of the town council in the near future. From this it can be seen that there is already a strain on the council's income, adding more to the list, much as the council may wish to take on these responsibilities it can only lead to one outcome, more council tax paid by the residents of the town.

In comparison the parish of Madron is just 2 miles from the centre of Penzance, the residents of this parish pay a precept of £40.09 raising just £19.600 from the 489 properties in the parish, little or any of this extra tax burden will fall on them. They will still benefit from access to the facilities that Penzance has to offer, but without the added tax burden, in fact Madron village is closer to the town centre than I am, this will be repeated across Cornwall big tax rises for those in the larger towns to pay for local facilities and services rather than the cost being spread across the whole and an ever widening gap in the tax costs of living in a larger town.

TOP TIP: - To cut your council tax bill move to a parish with St Michael in its name, St Michael Caerhays pays £0 parish precept, the same for St Michael’s Mount with St Michael Penkivel paying just £18.95 having gone down from last year.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Cornwall Council withdraws another service.

Tucked away in my briefing notes this week was a letter for information from the Highway Network Manager, the information being passed on was that in future the Highways Department would not be carrying out general weed treatment i.e. spraying with herbicide.

That’s the normally a pair of workers who you see about spraying the area between the road and pavement stopping the weeds growing in this area.

Now in the grand scheme of things, this may not seem that important, but if you just think about it, uncontrolled weeds lining every urban roadside, I fancy not the most pleasant sight.

If anything is guaranteed to insure an area looks rundown, uncared for, desolate that is going to be it.

Cornwall Council, go on to say if any Town or Parish Council wish to take on this service they can, but at the Town Councils own cost.

Currently some Towns do this work on an agency agreement with Cornwall Council who pay them £160.61 per km. these agreements will also end.

I do not know how many kilometres of urban streets there are in Penzance town councils area, but I am sure it’s a lot.

£160.61 per km at first glance seems a lot, but I’m sure that when Cornwall Council signed these agreements they did the sums and paid less than it was costing them. Taking on extra staff, training (have to be qualified to work within the highway), vehicles, risk assessments etc. I can see that this will not be a cheap operation. 

If Town & Parish councils want to take this work on or contract it out, and which wouldn’t, the money to pay for it has to come from somewhere.

Town & Parish councils are not awash with money, as more and more services are discontinued by Cornwall Council, whatever happened to ‘economy of scale’ on which Cornwall Council was formed, money available to do the things that people enjoy rather than just need will be eaten into, in Penzance budgets for the likes of Christmas Lights, Golowan, Art Gallery & Museum and many other events that make our town what it is, will be impacted upon and life a little sadder for it.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

More Parking Shenanigans at Cornwall Council

Whilst searching for something else on Cornwall Councils Website, I came across this little nugget of information.

Cornwall Council will be trialling reduced car parking in several Council owned car parks over the next few months.

The move follows requests from local Cornwall Councillors in Bude, Launceston, Liskeard, Penzance and St Ives. The Cornwall Council car parks included in the trial are:

Bude – Summerleaze; £1 per day from Monday 16 December for about 3 months

Launceston – Castle Street, Cattle Market, Pannier Market, Walkhouse; £1 on Saturdays leading up to Christmas – 30 November, 7, 14 and 21 December

Liskeard – Rapsons; £1 per day from Monday 16 December for about three months

Penzance – St Erbyns; £1.90 per day from Friday 6 December for about three months

St Ives - £2 per day in all long stay car parks, £2 for three hours in short stay car parks from Monday 16 December for about three months

Ignoring that I hadn’t heard of this trial and so had very few others, it’s the rather interesting pricing structure that caught my eye, a North South divide we all know about, but Cornwall seems to have its own West East divide, twice as much to park in the West as in the East.

I also find the trial in Launceston an interesting one, a price reduction on Saturdays leading up to Christmas, speaking from a town that has just spent over £20,000 to achieve the same thing, what is the trial in Launceston trying to find out? Other than the fact that Cornwall Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources is a Launceston councillor.

PS Who came up with £1.90 as a price? Even more change in the car, as I refuse to pay the £2 that most will be forced to pay.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Council Chief Executives, Serial Job Changers

In any other walk of life when recruiting staff would you consider a serial job changer?

The answer I think is properly no, you want staff to be loyal, grow into the company, see their decisions come to fruition, especially with a Chief Executive you would want them to plan for the long term and be there when those plans need updating, refining. You need stability at the top a clear vision, not constant change, reorganisation, new thinking.

Then why is it that in the world of Council Chief Executives does it appear to be full of serial job changers? People who inside 18 months to two years feel the need to move on? 

Council Chief Executives, should be non-political, the constant that the staff of the council look to as political control of the council changes, but even that political control is unlikely to change inside of four years between elections. 

Politics can move at quite a pace at times, but the underling infrastructure does not and many plans evolve and develop over quite substantial time periods i.e. Cornwall Local Plan, 2/3 years and still ongoing.

I know very little of the likely new chief executive of Cornwall Council other then the fact that he has been in his current job with Cardiff City Council for less than 18 months and the same in his previous job. Some decisions he made at both these previous jobs are most likely still to run there course.

The fact that he also received a big payout (£144.000) on leaving his previous post, I also find not only wrong but also indefensible. If this is considered the norm for these posts, then it’s time this is challenged, no payments for leaving the job inside, what 5 years, and a sliding scale for repayment of relocation expenses.

The costs in this constant churning of Chief Executives is very high for local councils and really must be brought to an end.   

Much has been made of his salary, but I fancy it is these add-ons that we need to know about, the relocation expenses, the payout should he leave, expenses etc. 


Well here we are Nov 2015 and true to form he's gone, on to pastures new. I wrote in the post above that 'I knew very little about the new chief executive' and less than two years latter I still know nothing about him. This time I know even less about the new chief exec other than this time it's a female from the home counties, I did read her name somewhere, Kate something I think, but it hardly seems worth the effort of finding out. I will update this again in what 18 months at the most I suspect.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

'Gulval to be consumed by Penzance Housing'

Today I was forwarded an e-mail from a colleague concerning yet another development being planned in Penzance & Gulval, as you can read below officers at Cornwall Council already think that enough consultation has taken place and that their plans are already in the public domain.

Not that public I fancy as no one I have spoken to has even heard of them.

So what are we talking about?

The land at Ponsandane is being seriously considered as being suitable for a housing estate and that Cornwall Planners have already conducted talks with developers to deliver a first phase of 100+ houses over the next few years. With further phases, to be developed at a later date.

This plot of land was protected in the original local plan as being the important green wedge of a high landscape value and preventing the coalescence of the village of Gulval into Penzance. At the consultation stage Penzance town council opposed development on this land, and a few years ago the planning inspectorate refused an appeal for just six houses on the land at Ponsandane because of the adverse visual impact and the fact that the B3312 formed a natural village boundary.

So why the Council  planners should now think it is appropriate to build on this site is beyond me, whilst I can appreciate that planning policy can become out of date, there is no way that a policy protecting an area for its important visual importance and role in separating the two communities of Gulval and Penzance can become irrelevant (Policy TV-2 of the local plan). 

Certainly this is not something they should decide for themselves; this is something the community should decide.   

The planning officer at Cornwall Council leading this plan has been approached regarding this development, Dave Slatter (Planning Officer, Cornwall Council, Camborne – whom I have been told has been going about the council offices rubbing his hands in glee at a development that as far as he is concerned is ‘in the bag’). Dave Slatter’s reply is as follows:

You are correct we have been in contact with the **********’ as landowners as we have been with other landowners whose sites have been identified as potential housing opportunities within the draft town framework.
The town frame is one of a number of frameworks that are being developed and used to ultimately inform an Allocations Plan for the emerging new Local Plan.
The potential for the site’s allocation has been in the public domain for some time now when it was identified within the Penzance options paper was published for public consultation in January 2012 as part of the West Penwith Community Network Area Discussion Paper.

This can still be downloaded by clicking on the West Penwith link on this page

The sites that were included in the plan were arrived at by using a robust Urban Assessment Methodology that examined the land around the existing urban area in order to discount the least sustainable land from further consideration. This approach was used consistently across all the towns considered and because of the sustainable development approach taken often resulted in challenging existing policies or even past decisions.

The assessment documents for Penzance were made available at the same time as the public consultation and can still downloaded from
Since the publication of the Community Network Area paper the target housing numbers within the Local plan have changed and are likely to change again. We have been examining the original options in more detail, including speaking to landowners (some did not want their land considered further), in order ascertain which options are not only the most sustainable but also viable and capable of delivery, this work is ongoing.

We are hoping to consult on the Allocations document next year however that does not stop developers from pursuing their own initiative including submitting planning applications if they chose to do so. In these circumstances we make them aware they are progressing at risk from a local policy perspective and strongly recommend they engage with the local community.

I have huge reservations about the methodology used to undertake the sustainability appraisal anyway, which I wont go into now, and I do not believe the SA done for the Penzance sites could be considered to be sound as it is subjective, inconsistent and not backed up by a strong evidence base (particularly in regards to environment and landscape issues). 

Regardless of this I believe it is extremely arrogant of the planners to think they can get housing development in this site through the backdoor so to speak without fully consulting the community on whether or not this land is still considered to be the important green wedge which deserves special protection. 

I think it is vitally important for the local community in Gulval  (and also the wider neighbourhood) to be made aware of these plans, and also the plans for all development in and around the Gulval area, 

I have been told that the old pig fields by the School have already been cleared for development, and I would like to know how many houses are planned for that site and also what percentage are affordable. 

It surely is for the people in Gulval to decide what is important to them, not the planners.

Below is a map showing the planned development area.

From this you can see that the darker green areas are the phases in which the planners are expecting to develop, this site i.e. the whole of the site facing the approach to Penzance will be covered with housing except for the two fields which surround the telecom mast.   

It is highly important that local people are involved in any decision making at the earliest stages,  whilst the land at Ponsandane can at this moment still only be considered as an exception site, planning policy at the national scale still means that development in such types of sites should only be taken forward if they are deemed acceptable by the local community (and the only way for that to be known and understood is if the general public are made aware and consulted on, and that the Town & Parish Councils agree it will be needed).

Friday, 11 October 2013

Penzance Farmers Market

This afternoon was the AGM of Penzance Farmers Market.  I am very happy to announce that I was voted in to be Chairman for the coming year.

Over the past 5 years, the Penzance Farmer Market has grown into a successful market with its regular Friday Morning Market in front of St Johns Hall, Penzance.

Over the coming year the Market will be facing a number of important issues, the major one being the refurbishment of St John’s Hall in Penzance.

Currently the Market operates in the forecourt of St John’s Hall in clement weather, moving into the Hall itself if the weather is inclement.

From March of next year, the Market will be operating outside in all weathers, not in the forecourt, but alongside the forecourt in the lower part of the car park. This will continue through until October, from October through the winter we have to find a suitable indoor venue, this is something that we are currently investigating.

The good news is that the market is continuing to grow and we are looking at obtaining funding to increase the number of stalls available for stallholders and increased storage space for them.  

To our current customers a big thank you and we will be still trading throughout the redevelopment at St John’s Hall, returning to the forecourt once its complete, and for those who are yet to find us come along on a Friday morning for great local produce.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Buses, Penwith and Cornwall Council

Having just read the statement on the Western Greyhound website  

‘Notice was given by Cornwall Council officers on a number of routes at the end of July and we were also given a list of proposed bus service cuts by Cornwall Council. Those proposals affected almost the entire Western Greyhound operation in “Penwith” rendering the very small remaining operation unsustainable.’

This decision made by officers at Cornwall Council, with no consultation, no contact with transport groups or Town Councils in West Cornwall shows a level of arrogance that is hard to believe or maybe not?

Still no statement from those officers as to why they think West Cornwall does not require a full bus service, how this decision was made, any alternatives they are considering.

I do know that our local County Councillors are meeting with the officers and transport groups, but this still has the feel of all too late, once again, a decision has been made by officers, and then consultation begins.  

Now it is no secret that I am not a great fan of Cornwall Council and some of its officers and the way the West of the County is considered and treated by them.

This has come about not because I don't want to work with them to improve Penzance, it’s because so many of the decisions made by them are made without the benefit of local opinion, until it’s too late for those opinions to be considered. Or we are given options that are no option.

Sadly, all too often, this is the order in which things happen at Cornwall Council, and they wonder why they get a bad press and anger people.