Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Continuing the campaign for a Cornish tick-box

Last week, I was one of the four councillors present at a meeting with senior officers from the Office of National Statistics about the need for a Cornish tickbox on the 2021 census.

It was a positive meeting and we left the ONS in no doubt about the significance of this issue.

Further representations are planned and a press release has been published today by Cornwall Council. It is included below for information.

Cornwall Council press release
Council pushes for formal recognition of the Cornish in 2021 census

The Cornish could be recognised in the 2021 Census if the latest efforts by Cornwall Council are successful.

Last week Cornwall Council Deputy Leader Julian German, Cornwall Councillors and Council officers met with senior officers from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in Truro to discuss the inclusion of tick boxes for the Cornish and Cornish language on the Census.

In March 2017, in its Fourth Opinion to the UK Government on the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the Council of Europe made a specific recommendation to the ONS stating it should “take the necessary measures to include the possibility to self-identify as Cornish, through a ‘tick-box’ in the next census.”

In the last census in 2011, the Cornish did not have the option to tick a box to say they identified as Cornish like the Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Northern Irish and could only write Cornish under the ‘other’ option.

Deputy Leader Julian German said the meeting was an important milestone. “Cornish people have a proud and distinct identity. We are proud of our history and language and want this to be reflected in the way the census captures data so it’s not an ‘other’ field in the language and identity section.

“We believe this will provide a more accurate reflection of the number of Cornish in Cornwall and across the UK.

“An accurate count of Cornish language speakers is a key factor in influencing funding and devolution – this is key to helping us get a better deal and more funding for Cornish people and culture,” the Deputy Leader said.

Although no commitment has been made from the ONS on the inclusion of the Cornish as a tick box option, the Office reaffirmed their commitment to support ethnic groups across the UK.

“Our meeting identified some really helpful points in the development and operation of the next census where ONS and Cornwall Council can work together to have a successful census in 2021,” said Ben Humberstone, Programme Director, 2021 Census, ONS.

The meeting is the latest push to gain more recognition for the Cornish and comes three years after the UK Government gave Cornish the same status as other Celtic communities the Scots, Welsh and Irish. This recognition by the UK government within the Framework Convention is not affected by Brexit.

The media and being a Cornish nationalist ...

The headline speaks for itself. My article in today’s Cornish Guardian is as follows:

During the last few weeks, I have been approached by a number of “up-country” journalists. All were keen to find out more about Cornwall and, in particular, Cornish nationalism.

It would have been nice to think that Mebyon Kernow had generated this interest; possibly through specific campaigns that we had been running, or due to some of the key arguments we had been making for a better deal for Cornwall.

But sadly, the journalists were following up on the widespread and irresponsible reporting of the "fake news" of alleged terrorist activities in Cornwall.

For those of you that missed it, there was an electrical fault at a bin store, associated with fish and chip shop in Porthleven. This lead to a localised fire, for which an organisation claimed “responsibility.”

It was, of course, all nonsense, but that did not stop newspapers such as the Sun, Daily Mirror and Daily Mail, printing a series of unfortunate articles.

One local man – a former MP – interviewed for a feature on Radio 4 was cheeky enough to suggest that the claims were some sort of “Cornish humour” to see how many of the “metropolitan elite” would be daft enough to give credence to the claims.

That said, I do find it extremely infuriating that legitimate political and other stories from Cornwall – such as the 50,000 declarations for a Cornish Assembly in 2001 – are so often ignored by the mainstream media and “Fleet Street,” and yet they fall over themselves to publish stories lacking in substance.

In the recent interviews that have followed, I have often been asked what it means to be a Cornish nationalist. At this time, I thought it would be good to share my response in this article.

To me, the answer is quite simple. Cornwall is a historic entity with its own distinct identity, language and heritage. It is a nation – just like Scotland and Wales.

Every person who seeks the greater recognition of the nation of Cornwall or campaigns for self-government for Cornwall or positively promotes Cornish identity, is therefore, by extension, a Cornish nationalist.

What is important is that our approach to politics is inclusive and outward-looking. I am particularly proud that we campaign for a better deal for all the people of Cornwall and are never afraid to make a stand on global issues with significance far beyond our borders.

Cornwall does need to be “brave and bold” …

My article in last week’s Cornish Guardian addressed the two-year anniversary of the so-called Cornwall Devolution Deal and the “state of Cornwall” address by the leader of Cornwall Council. It was as follows:

In recent days, there has been quite a focus on the two-year anniversary of the “Cornwall devolution deal,” with senior elected members on the unitary authority and council officers talking up the “historic” nature of the arrangement.

It would be churlish not to admit that the “deal” contains many elements of merit, such as the achievement of Intermediate Body status which allows Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly some greater local control over the allocation of EU funding to projects.

But overall, it does not include the shift of meaningful political power to elected politicians in Cornwall.

For example, in this past week, I was twice at meetings which covered the heritage aspects of the “deal.” Part of this related to a “study of the cultural distinctiveness of Cornwall's historic environment.” Obviously, I welcome this, but the “deal” included no powers over heritage policy or the management of state-owned historic assets in Cornwall.

From my perspective, what was agreed two years ago was not devolution as understood in other nations such as Scotland and Wales. It was an accommodation between the UK Government and local government here in Cornwall on a range of specific issues, but which still left central government in the driving seat.

And while this “devolution” debate has been ongoing, central government has offloaded certain local functions to unelected bodies such as the Local Enterprise Partnership, which is hardly an advert for democratic reform.

In his “state of Cornwall” address to the unitary authority at last week’s Full Council meeting, council leader Adam Paynter spoke about Cornwall being “brave and bold” and pushing for “more powers” and “greater autonomy from the Government.”

Adam also called for politicians to “work together” and “put the future of Cornwall first.” But having spoken about the primacy of Cornwall, he went on to undermine that by arguing that we should submerge ourselves into some kind of “strong south west offer” when dealing with the centre.

Recent history shows that whenever Cornwall is incorporated into a south west block, it inevitably loses out to Exeter, Taunton or Bristol.

I do agree with Adam Paynter when he says that we need to be “brave and bold,” but surely that means always standing up for Cornwall as a distinct unit in all things. And it means not allowing Cornwall to be seen merely as the western tenth of a synthetic south west region.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

My latest monthly report

At last week’s Parish Council meeting, I presented my most recent monthly report. It covered the time period of 26th June to 23rd July, and was as follows:

1. Council meetings

Over the last few weeks, I have attended a range of formal meetings. These have included: Economic Growth and Development Overview and Scrutiny Committee; Constitution and Governance Committee; Electoral Review Panel (2) and a number of additional informal meetings through my position of vice-chairman of the Panel; a briefing on the Council’s approach to the development of a new waste collection strategy; a Network meeting for the China Clay Area; a Group Leaders’ meeting; and a briefing in advance of this coming week’s Full Council meeting.

In the same period, I have also been at two meetings of St Enoder Parish Council.

2. Other meetings / events

In addition, I have attended meetings of ClayTAWC (2) of which I am Chairman, Indian Queens Pit (trustee), a sub-group of the St Austell Bay Economic Forum (SABEF), and the Annual General Meeting of the St Piran Trust.

Last Sunday (23rd July) I was very pleased to be invited to open the second day of the Rescorla Festival at the old chapel in the village, which has been converted into a cultural centre. It partly clashed with a concert by Indian Queens Band in the Pit, but I was able to get to both.

Because of the work that I have done across the China Clay Area, I also received an invitation to attend Carclaze Primary School for a presentation from the children about the china clay industry through words and dance. It was really great to see.

3. Economic Growth and Development Overview and Scrutiny Committee

At the second meeting of the above committee, councillors discussed the work programme for the coming months. A “task and finish” group has been set up to review the Council’s arrangement for parking, which will include enforcement matters. Much of the discussion from the officers and other councillors focused on the towns and I had to speak up for rural areas such as ours. As a consequence of this, I have become a member of the “task and finish” group.

4. Briefing on waste

At the briefing into the Council’s approach to the development of a new waste collection strategy, I raised queries about the low number of public waste bins in areas such as ours. I received an assurance these concerns will be addressed in the review.

5. Electoral Review Panel

As I wrote in my last monthly report, I have been elected as the vice-chairman of this Panel and I am heavily involved in its ongoing work producing a response to the consultation from the Local Government Boundary Commission for England that states Cornwall Council should only have 87 members from 2021 onwards.

Given that the initial view of the unitary authority (105-115 councillors) was deemed unacceptable by the LGBCE, the Panel has reaffirmed its view that there should be 99 councillors on Cornwall Council. This is in spite of the fact that many Cornwall Councillors, myself included, would prefer the number of elected members not to be reduced. This recommendation will be presented to Full Council this week.

6. Regeneration study for St Austell and the China Clay Area

On 18th July I attended a workshop on behalf of St Enoder Parish about the regeneration of our area. I am also involved with this through SABEF, but I am worried that there is an inadequate focus on the actual China Clay Area. I am making representations about this and will report more in my next monthly report.

7. Update on works at biogas plant at Higher Fraddon

Further to last month’s report, I can add that Greener for Life is about to start emptying the secondary digester of material so that they can lower the height of its dome. Cornwall Council has agreed extra vehicle movements for this work in line with a submitted Construction Management Plan and a Construction Environment Management Plan. However, the Council has insisted on two banksmen (at the top and bottom of the lane) to ensure that HGVs do not meet in the lane.

I also hosted a meeting between residents and three officers from Cornwall Council to discuss progress with the discharge of the conditions for the planning permission. Some of these updates have been featured in recent monthly updates and the minutes for this meeting are available on request.

8. Planning matters

Members will recall that, about nine months ago, the unauthorised caravan site on the Kelliers failed to secure planning permission through an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. The owners were also told that they had to remove the caravans by 18th July 2017, but they have failed to do this. Cornwall Council is looking to ratchet up enforcement actions.

I am continuing to liase with officers on a range of planning applications and I will update more fully in my next monthly report.

9. Bus shelters

The issue of the maintenance of Cornwall Council-owned bus shelters was a key topic at the recent meeting of the Network Panel for the China Clay Area. I have also made further representations and some of the bus shelters were recently cleaned. I made further representations that not all were done and I have asked for the job to be completed.

10. School visit

On 14th July, 35 children from Indian Queens School visited New County Hall. I was pleased to be able to assist with the event and I was one of three councillors who answered some very searching questions.

11. World War 1 project

I can confirm that the application for funding towards a Parish Council project to remember the local war dead of the Great War has been submitted. I am now waiting on the response.

12. Inquiries

During the last month, I have also helped numerous people with advice and guidance on a range of problems.

The BBC and wage inequality

In last week’s Cornish Guardian, my article focused on the “fall-out” from the BBC’s announcement about the salaries of its top celebrities. It was as follows:

The formal publication of the salary levels for the highest paid employees in the BBC was one of last week’s big news stories.

There has been considerable anger that certain presenters have been paid hundreds of thousands of pounds from the UK’s public broadcaster, while there was also a significant focus on the “gender gap” between male and female high-fliers. One newspaper has even renamed the Corporation as the “Bloated Blokes Club.”

And is it any wonder, when the tabloids print stories about how certain BBC celebrities have spent more on a single wristwatch than many Cornish residents – myself included – earn in a year?

For me, this all focuses attention on the inequality that pervades the United Kingdom – with some people earning so much, millions earning less in real terms than previous years, and many earning so little that they are struggling to make ends meet.

This is a massive issue in Cornwall, where low pay is an entrenched problem with average wages long having been more than 20% below the UK average.

Looking back, I remember that a couple of years ago I wrote about the Resolution Foundation report titled “Low Pay Britain” which set out concerns about the well-being of the five million British workers in extremely low-paid work.

Report after report shows that the situation has not improved for so many individuals and families. For example, a recent study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies about male employment shows that “twenty years ago, only one in 20 men aged 25 to 55 worked part-time with low hourly wages. Today one in five of this group works part-time.”

Public sector workers have also lost out because of the continuation of austerity measures and I am pleased to have been able to back the GMB’s campaign against the ongoing pay freeze. The union rightly makes the case that “the financial crash wasn’t caused by teaching assistants, council officers or hospital porters. And it’s outrageous that they are still expected to pay the price for the banking crisis over a decade later.”

It also points out how, since 2010, the wages of public sector workers' “have been frozen, or have increased below inflation, which means their cost of living is rising faster than their pay, leaving them out of pocket.”

The GMB estimates that the average worker delivering vital public services has lost £9,000 over the last seven years and face losing another £4,000 in the next three years.

Surely, this all demonstrates that building a more equal society must be a key priority for all political parties going forward.