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Police Commissioners – time for the government to admit defeat 6 May, 2016

Posted by Jeremy Rowe in News, Politics.
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I’m writing this the morning after a reasonably confusing set of local election results (I’ll leave it to others to unpick those) but what really caught my eye was the following comparison:

PCC elections (Cornwall)
Eligible electorate 409,571
Votes verified 76,635
Turnout 18.71%

St Ives Referendum
Eligible electorate 7,300
Votes verified 3,696
Yes votes 3,075 (83.2%)
No votes 616 (16.7%)
Turnout 42.7%

Firstly, congratulations to St Ives for developing a bold plan and carrying it this far. Secondly, the turnout for the PCC election is simply appalling. When I went to cast my vote at the St Breock polling station yesterday afternoon I was only the sixteenth voter through the doors. It seems that was a fair reflection of public interest across Cornwall and – I assume – the country as a whole.

When the government imposed Police and Crime Commissioners we were told that the initial low turnouts were because people hadn’t yet understood the role but that engagement would grow in time.

Nothing seems to have changed after four years.

I believe the government made a mistake dismantling the Police Authorities. PCCs have generally cost more, haven’t improved policing and clearly have no greater democratic legitimacy than their predecessor organisations.

Time for the government to admit defeat…

National Coastwatch seeking volunteers 26 April, 2016

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Terry Waite 23 April, 2016

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Terry Waite

I was very honoured to be asked to speak yesterday at the Mayor of Truro’s fundraising event for the homeless charity, Emmaus UK.

Unfortunately for me and two other speakers we were the warm up act for the remarkable Terry Waite. For those too young to remember, Terry was held captive in Beirut for nearly five years but on his release threw himself into humanitarian work and writing. Among other charitable commitments, he is the president of Emmaus.

In my opening remarks I mentioned that I felt a little like Edward Everett. If you haven’t heard of him, that’s really the point. In November 1863 Everett was invited to speak at the consecration of a military cemetery in Pennsylvania. He duly rattled on for two hours but his contribution was somewhat lost after the next speaker rose. A tall, bearded man of letters cleared his throat, spoke for two minutes and redefined the political speech forever. The man was Abraham Lincoln and the venue was Gettysburg.

Terry Waite didn’t quite redefine the art of public speaking yesterday, but it was certainly a privilege to hear another tall, bearded man of letters share his thoughts. He spoke with warmth, passion and a deep sense of burning social conscience. Emmaus (who do some really fantastic work) are lucky to have him as their president and those of us who were there yesterday were lucky to have a front row seat.

Election Expenses – the plot thickens 22 April, 2016

Posted by Jeremy Rowe in News, Politics.
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The relentless Michael Crick continues his investigation into the Conservative Party’s non-committal relationship with the law around electoral spending.

There’s nothing new about party volunteers travelling to other areas to campaign but the law around spending is very clear. Costs incurred for campaigning on behalf of local candidates must be declared by the candidate as a local expense, not a national one. Hotels and ‘Battle Buses’ were paid for out of the central pot but, as Michael Crick demonstrates, the work done was very much in support of specific local candidates.

It’s very clear that the Electoral Commission need to investigate this thoroughly, and there’s every chance that the police will become involved. If there’s deliberate wrongdoing found then this is very clearly a subverting of the law to win an election.

This affair cannot be brushed under the carpet.

Answers needed on Election Expenses 21 April, 2016

Posted by Jeremy Rowe in Local Matters, News, Politics.
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You may have seen Michael Crick’s report on Channel 4 News last night – if not I’ve linked to it above. Obviously there are a number of interesting questions that arise from this, not least whether or not electoral law was broken in the pursuit of vital marginal seats, and I and many others will be hoping to hear some answers over the coming days.

A government elected by a mere 36% of the electorate, already suffering from questions about its relationship to offshore money and influence, cannot simply brush this under the carpet. If the law has been broken then there will need to be a full investigation.

Boscawen Park Devolution 21 April, 2016

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Truro City Council takes over the ownership of Boscawen Park

Truro City Council is now the owner of the popular Boscawen Park which has transferred from Cornwall Council, securing the future of this important leisure area for Truro’s residents and visitors.

Truro City Council has already been managing the park under a long lease. Ownership of the park has been transferred to the city council under Cornwall Council’s ‘localism and devolution’ scheme, for the benefit of local residents.

The park includes an impressive play area, which has received substantial recent investment, led by the City Council and the Friends of Boscawen Park, cricket and football pitches, a playing field, adult outdoor gym equipment, tennis courts and parking.

Truro City Council has been keen to take over ownership of the site as part of their aspirations for the city’s community facilities to be managed and serviced locally, with more local accountability, control and direction. Now that land ownership matters have been clarified, the transfer has been completed.

The Mayor of Truro City Council, Mrs Lorrie Eathorne-Gibbons, said: “We’re delighted that Cornwall Council has given us the opportunity to own Boscawen Park. We look forward to managing and running it locally, as well as continuing to work with the Friends of Boscawen Park who helped to secure significant funds to overhaul the play area last year. With the great new play area, the range of sports facilities, and our exciting plans for the future, we expect Boscawen Park to become an even more popular outdoor family location for Truro’s residents and visitors. I believe we have an amenity we can be very proud of.”

Truro City Council has a strong track record of working with Cornwall Council to deliver localism and devolution projects and delivering frontline services. It has a dedicated grounds maintenance team already managing the park and several other sites; so when they approached us with a plan to take the ownership of Boscawen Park, we were keen to be able to help them realise their local ambition. Truro City Council’s proactive approach to take more control over local assets is a great example of devolution in action. Devolution at its most worthwhile is about finding the best long term local custodians of an asset, in this case an open space that is valued by the local community. I applaud their innovative approach to working with the Council and other partners to provide an excellent service to their community.

Loic Rich, Cornwall Councillor for Truro Tregolls, said: “Boscawen Park is focal point for a range of activities from sports and recreation to its connections to the Truro River and wider Fal Estuary areas. This will ensure the area remains for the benefit of the community and I am sure both locals and visitors alike will appreciate that our Truro City Council Parks Department have the skills, abilities, and vision to manage Boscawen Park for now and future generations.”

This asset transfer by Cornwall Council is one of several completed or planned for Truro under Cornwall Council’s Devolution programme.

Devolution 18 April, 2016

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devolution

The extraordinary result in the Wadebridge West by-election seems to have dragged me out of my blogging retirement – at least for the time being. With that in mind I thought I’d reproduce here the text of an article I’ve just written for the Cornish Guardian (which will be reproduced in the West Briton and The Cornishman).

Devolution continues to be a buzzword around local government, nowhere more so than here in Cornwall. Whether it’s the government’s ‘Deal For Cornwall’ – covering crucial areas like bringing health and social care together – or Cornwall Council’s individual agreements with Town and Parish Councils or community groups, the ‘D’ word has become a topic among local councils like never before.

But what does this really mean for residents beyond all the public sector jargon? Many communities across Cornwall have already taken on services (public toilets being the high profile example) and many others are in discussions with Cornwall Council. The services in question range from parks and gardens, libraries and allotments through to specific buildings like the clock tower in St Day. Often local areas can run these amenities better and more efficiently than a larger authority can.

I’m sometimes asked if Cornwall Council would be letting go of these services were it not for the savage cuts imposed by central government, and the honest answer is probably not, at least at this pace. Nevertheless we’ve learned that local communities are strong enough, committed enough and resilient enough to step up and take things on. Perhaps an unintended consequence of the cuts is that we will all come to appreciate those dedicated people who give their time to serve on local councils or in their local communities more than we may have done in the past. As the public sector continues to shrink we will have much to be grateful to local communities for.

 

The devolution discussions we have with local councils can often be complicated and usually take longer than anyone intended (for a number of reasons) but it is nearly always worth the effort in the end. Falmouth and Newquay town councils have shown real ambition in this field and are achieving great results – Camborne, Penzance and St Austell (among others) are fast catching up.

The end result is likely to be that local government in Cornwall will look very different. In many ways it will be more like the pre-1974 model of Urban and Rural District Councils. Local government structures seem to move in cycles – like fashion trends – but if we end up with better run services with more local control then that is surely a good thing for everyone.

A stunning victory for Karen in Wadebridge West 16 April, 2016

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The dust has settled on a keenly fought Cornwall Council by-election in the Wadebridge West electoral division with Karen McHugh pulling off a stunning victory for the Lib Dems. The seat was previously held by Scott Mann for the Conservatives but the Tory vote collapsed (by 40%) while the Lib Dem vote share was up nearly 20%. Th12670732_188175881565153_6178987500279772554_ne Labour, Green and Independent candidates also put in good showings.

 

The results were:

Conservative: 356 (25.6%)

Independent: 111 (8.0%)

Labour: 222 (16.0%)

Lib Dem: 604 (43.5%) 

Green: 95 (6.8%)

Turnout was 47.85%

 

I’ve known Karen for about twenty years and I know how strong her values are and how deeply compassionate she is, so I have no doubt she’ll be an excellent representative for Wadebridge as well as being a key contributor to Cornwall as a whole. I’m really looking forward to working with her.

I would also like to make special mention of the other candidates in this election who all fought so hard throughout the campaign. While we may all have had our philosophical differences no one can doubt their strong commitment to the people of Wadebridge and the surrounding area. I applaud anyone who puts themselves forward for election but Wadebridge West was blessed with some particularly good candidates. Well done to everyone.

 

A post-election rant… 7 May, 2015

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The polls have finally closed and no one’s propaganda can make the blindest bit of difference now. The national campaign seems to have been painfully long and negative, without shedding too much light on the issues that will make the most difference to people’s lives. I’m glad it’s over.

Here in North Cornwall I really hope Dan Rogerson is re-elected – he’s been a fantastic local MP for the past ten years and, in my opinion, fully deserves to carry on the good work.

Nationally – in spite of a really nasty set of exit polls – I hope the numbers work out in such a way that the Tories are nowhere near government this time. Their wilful disregard for the vulnerable and disadvantaged has only been mildly tempered by Lib Dems in coalition and I have no desire to see a repeat.

Regardless of who forms the next government here is my wishlist of the things I hope they remember:

1. Please make sure that any debate about the future of Europe is based on the facts, not emotive propaganda led by tax exile newspaper owners with vested interests.
2. Please stop making scapegoats of immigrants. The vast majority work extremely hard and help provide so many vital services – the NHS, for example – that we take for granted. Be nice, people!
3. Please take a good hard look at whether our ‘First Past The Post’ system and an unelected House Of Lords are really relevant to 21st Century Britain.
4. Please don’t just accept the ‘austerity’ agenda without question. Much harm has been done in the name of deficit reduction and the suffering has mainly fallen on the poor and vulnerable rather than the super-rich speculators who caused the crash in the first place.
5. Please stop playing politics with Scotland and ‘The Union’. I don’t see any reason to be scared of Nicola Sturgeon, and the constant assault of the right wing press will only increase divisions and make a permanent split inevitable.

I leave you with the words of my great political hero, Abraham Lincoln, which I hope are at least partially relevant:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Post-election rant over…

Gorsedh Kernow 7 September, 2013

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Gorsedh 1

 

Today was my first ever visit to the Gorsedh ceremony (born and bred in Cornwall, and still so many things I haven’t seen). It was a colourful occasion – held this year in Penryn on the site of the historic Glasney College – celebrating the Cornish culture, language and heritage.

Gorsedh 2

 

There was traditional music and dancing as well as recognition of those, both in Cornwall and around the world, who had done their bit for Cornish culture and heritage. I was there deputising for Council Leader John Pollard who, along with Julian German and Bert Biscoe, had donned the blue robes by virtue of being a Cornish Bard.

Gorsedh 3

 

For me it was a demonstration that nationalism doesn’t have to be of the BNP/EDL variety – instead it can be, as the Gorsedh is, a celebration of culture, heritage and inclusiveness.

Gorsedh 4