Cornwall Council Cabinet – next week

St Austell Council offices

Cabinet next Wednesday will discuss what to do about the council offices in Penwinnick Road, St Austell.  The report tells us that when the council was first set up, they did some work to identify which offices they wanted to protect and keep, one of which was St Austell.  Then along came a supermarket and made them an offer, so they decided to flog it anyway.  The report seems to be suggesting that they might like to house the 350 staff who currently work there at the Sedgemoor offices, which I think are at the back of Ozzell Bowl, but that bit wasn’t really clear.

Anyway they have invited bids to see what they get for it, but we’re not allowed to know what they say.  And the website gives us a link to the explanation for why we’re not allowed to know what they say, which tells us nothing in English.

New Homes Bonus

This report details how the council wants to deal with the almost £2m new homes bonus that it has for this year – a figure that will increase markedly in future years.  It says, for this year, and notably no commitment for future years, that it wants to use the funding to support housing priorities – which I commend.

It indentifies – three types of support – Provision of new homes to meet local need, bringing empties back into use, supporting enabling infrastructure to bring forward and support new housing sites.

I have no great problem with these priorities in principle (although there are other aspects I would like to see given consideration as well), but I would like to know more of the detail of how the money will be spent – how much on each of these elements? – and where? – and specifically how much on the infrastructure bit? – on this part a commitment that it will only go to support infrastructure on sites with a considerable affordable housing element might be good.

Perhaps they could use some of the money to assist those currently in poor standard housing, how about supporting some of the voluntary sector organisations who house vulnerable people to improve their housing conditions?  Housing isn’t all about building new you know.

Part of the purpose of new homes bonus is to reward those communities who accept new housing.  It would be good to see this made explicit by returning at least a proportion of the new homes bonus to the areas in which it was raised and to commit to consulting the relevant communities on how it is spent.

I do not agree with delegated authority asked for in the report without a much stronger framework around how this funding (which will reach levels over £10m in 5/6 years time) is distributed and monitoring arrangements that report back regularly put in place.

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Outsourcing public services saves money doesn’t it?

You know how the argument goes.  The private sector has to compete and that drives innovation and efficiency.  I could take issue with this, but let’s not bother with that bit for now and go for the real travesty.

Ethical consumer network have just completed some research looking at who wins the £200 billion a year of public sector contracts.  It has put 20 of the largest contract winners under the ethical spotlight and guess what, they found that this mushrooming business gives contracts to some of the most unethical global companies.

The companies score particularly badly in relation to politics (virtually all of them were playing this game) – you know the sort of the thing, manoevering to get access to Whitehall power brokers, making party donations, employing former ministers.

13 had subsidiary companies in countries widely considered as tax havens.  Included amongst these are BUPA, Capita and Sodexo.  KPMG has a presence in 47 out 60 recognised tax havens.

13 of the 20 also score very badly on human rights, including Serco, BUPA, KPMG, McKinsey

The list of companies they looked at and found wanting to various degrees is:





United health







Balfour Beatty

Alliance Medical








Wonder how many of these have contracts in Cornwall?

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Another excellent Guardian article here by Pankash Mistra, on how the poor are being stuffed around the world, including here in the UK, and the rising anger against it.

My comment on the article is repeated below.

A really excellent article, but the real question is what next?  I think we’ve gone too far to be able to simply roll back globalisation and retreat within our boundaries.  For the UK in particular, we are now a very long way from self sufficient and seizing up global markets will only make things worse for us.  For the world as a whole, we are now so interconnected that a rapid retreat from globalisation would mean catastrophic collapse.

I see the problem not a globalisation itself, but the partial and poorly constructed nature of it.  We have corporations acting globally while governments act for nations.  This means in simple terms corporations play one off against the other and we have the ensuing race to the bottom.  It is right that we will all end up at the same level for wages, but why not make that our level rather than the Chinese or Indian one.

To solve this we need more globalisation, but of the type that starts to set worldwide minimum standards.  This includes minimum wages, health and safety, the amount of tax corporations should pay.  We need to start to put in place an effective world wide governance structure – note this isn’t a straight move to a global government, but a sensible process for moving government towards far greater areas of agreement to protect the citizens of the world.  If large numbers of nations begin to act effectively together then peaceful pressures can be applied to encourage others to join rather than be frozen out.

On over population, it is an issue, but it is poor countries that have the largest populations, and those with smaller populations that use the most resources.  Too many peeps is way too simplistic an understanding.

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Technology as part of the fix

Harnessing technolgy effectively is, I think, a crucial aspect in changing to a more sustainable world.  The role of twitter, mobile phones, facebook, blackberrys etc has been linked and reported on by the media in relation to the Arab Spring pro-democracy rebellions and also in relation to the recent spate of civil unrest in London and other English urban areas.  The former in a mostly positive light and the latter in a mostly negative light.   Of course Wikileaks has also managed to rattle some of the world’s political masters.  At a more basic level, this blog and countless others rely on the internet to both gather and share information.

This article in the guardian looks at computer hacking, recognising that it can be used for both good and bad, and considers the power that hackers now have for real influence and the organisations that have grown around hacking.  There is for instance a group called Chaos Computer Club (CCC) based in Berlin – that’s chaos as in scientific theory not as in maliciously causing chaos.  The club was formed out of an understanding of the world which sees it as a much less deterministic and far more chaotic place than has been understood in the past.  (Sounds like similar ideas to those contained in the book Black Swans by Nassim Nicholas Taleb that talks about how we are fooled by randomness).  These ideas when transferred to a political sphere mean that we cannot plan for how things will turn out in the way that we often try to (As the saying goes – if you want to make God laugh, show him your plans).  When understood in a political light this has important ramifications.

Quote from Guardian article

“Most of today’s politicians realise that nobody in their ministries, or any of their expensive consultants, can tell them what is going on any more. They have a steering wheel in their hands without a clue what – if anything – it is connected to. Our leaders are reassuring us that the ship will certainly survive the growing storm. But on closer inspection they are either quietly pocketing the silverware or discreetly making their way to the lifeboats.”

For me (because I haven’t looked what CCC have to say about any of this yet), this shouldn’t mean an absence of government, but it does help to highlight some of the ways in which government needs to evolve.  Firstly groups like CCC talk about world citizens.  To fix global challenges we need global solutions.  The recognition of chaos, doesn’t mean don’t try to understand and don’t try to plan’ – it does mean work harder to understand the interconnections between different issues and it does mean make your plans resillient by building in some pretty large margins for error.  By recognising the complexity, a clear response is to involve a wide range of people and intelligence sources to understand and respond to it.  It is this aspect that I’m particularly interested in.  By using the IT to harness and organise those dispersed sources and handle the communication, we can build systems that are much more dynamic, link IT to policymaking and bring direct democracy far further into the heart of how the world is governed.

The flaws within planning how this works in practice, apply as much here as to any other aspects, so the approach should be to understand some of the broad amibitions ie. achieving global integration on key policy areas; increasing direct democracy.  These can then be taken forward in an incremental and evolving way as the opportunities arise and develop.  Direct influencing of government where there are seats at the table is one route, but there are other more bottom up routes.  Ideas around collective ownership, targeted and organised via IT capabilities would be another.

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Housing Numbers in Cornwall

Last week at Cornwall Council the Planning Policy Advisory Committee met and one of the items on the agenda was the Core Strategy Preferred Approach.  The officers report was recommending that the number of homes that should be planned to be built by 2030 should be 54,000.  The panel rejected this and are instead recommending 40,000.  Some of the councillors have blogged about it.  See Dick Cole and Jude Robinson.

The draft Core Strategy will go to the Cabinet meeting on the 14th September.  The Council’s Forward Plan shows that there will be a number of interesting and important reports considered at that meeting.  They include:

Local Heating Networks and Energy Companies; Choice based lettings revisions; Wind energy options; Alternative delivery of housing services; Solar park update and renewables; options for the future of Penwinnick offices in St Austell; Fair deployment of resources across Cornwall; New Homes Bonus; and a couple of reports about Cornwall Community Land Trust.

Anyway back to housing numbers.  There is a variety of evidence  that has been produced to help inform the numbers and having consciously avoided looking at any of this stuff for some time, it will take some more time to get back to grips with it.  I’m starting with ‘The Cornwall Housing Market, Strategic Evidence Base, 2010 Update’ as this is quoted in the reports produced by Cornwall Council.  This document pulls together some previous evidence and uses secondary data to update it.  As time goes by more new statistical information becomes available and there have been some important addtions since this report was written.  In particular new releases of demographic information have become available from ONS.

These have relevant things to say about migration and household projections.  In the evidence report household projections use 2006 based projections, since then 2008 based projections have been released.  Table 406 on the CLG website gives household projections to 2033 that are are considerably less than those used and supports the panels recommendation to go for a lower number.

Paragraph 2.22 in the evidence base report shows households predicted to increase to 290,500 by 2026.  On the basis of the later 2008 based estimate the number is reduced 284,000.

Para 2.22 also states that the annual net increase is likely to oscillate around 3,200.  On the basis of the current projections between 2008 to 2018 there is an increase in the region of 2,850 a year.  This is already a considerable difference, but it seems likely that it will further lessen in future.  Because household projections look back a considerable period to project forward, if there has been a distinctive change in the trend, it will take some time for this to be reflected properly in the future projections.  So long as the same trend continues, then projections will work pretty well, but if the trend changes they do not.  The current set of figures show increases over the last 3 years for which figures are available (2006 to 07, 2007 to 08 and 2008 to 09) have all been around 2,000 – less than the 2,850 per annum currently predicted between 2008 and 2028 and much less than the figure shown in the report of 3,200.


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Public sector borrowing totalled £14.0 billion in June 2011

This is the headline on the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) website, which you will note doesn’t have quite the same spin as the Government’s.

PSNB of £14.0 billion is £0.3 billion higher – that’s right, more borrowing than in June 2010.  How is the difference made up?  Government spending up by £2.3 billion.  Borrowing by local authorities and public corporations up by £0.1 billion, while receipts only up by £2.1 billion.

A closer look at receipts shows that the main increase (5.6% higher than last year) was because of VAT going back up to 20%. Yield from VAT up by 16.6%.  The receipts from income tax, national insurance and corporation tax all fell.  What does that tell you about employment and business?  Anything to do with a royal wedding do you think?  No, I didn’t think so either.

Those are the June figures.  The April to June quarter as a whole shows PSNB (Public sector borrowing) £0.4 billion lower than same period last year.  This is the first quarter of 2011/12.  The OBR forecast in March included an expectation of a £20.3 billion fall for the full year – at this rate there’s a bit of catching up to do – let’s see 0.4 x 4 = 1.6 and 20.3 – 1.6 = 18.7.

At the moment OBR is still saying it expects stronger receipts throughout the rest of the year that will bring the full year position closer to its forecast.  Let’s see if they can manage £18.7 billion closer.

The full year’s outturn for PSNB in 2010-11 is still provisional at £142.1.  OBR use an interesting phrase then which says ‘We expect ONS estimates for central government current expenditure and investment to be revised in September to reflect departments’ provisional outturns, and also some methodological changes in accounting adjustments.’  

Ha ha ha.  What was it I was saying yesterday about trends to watch? This was one of them:

  • Changes to the way figures particularly those relating to the deficit are calculated

Anyone else feeling a tad suspicious?

What ONS say

The headline is ‘GDP Growth UK output increases by 0.2%’  Then there is some nonsense about Japanese tsunamis and royal weddings – please.

Nothing to set the world on fire here.

  • The largest positive contribution was from business services and finance – 0.7%.
  • Production industries decreased by 1.4% – manufacturing decreased 0.3%; mining and quarrying down 6.6%; electricity gas and water supply down 3.2%
  • Construction was up 0.5% (following a drop of 3.4% in the previous quarter)
  • Distribution, hotels and restaurants – up.  Transport, storage and communication – up
  • Government and other services unchanged.
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Europe begins to locate it’s brain, while the US continues to stumble blindly.

The deal with Greece gives me cause for hope.  Don’t get me wrong, this is still a sticking plaster that will need much more thought before a more sustainable worldwide economic model emerges.  Importantly, what has happened, is that there has been a collective acknowledgement that just imposing more austerity on Greece can only make the situation worse.  This means, that at some level at least, there is a recognition of the need for systemic change not just something to fix the issue now and then back to business as usual.  There will be more problems to come, but this is a good start on tackling them.

Meanwhile across the bond, Vince Cable has it right, bunch of nutters.  If they don’t raise the debt ceiling and the US defaults who knows what chaos will ensue and needless to say it will go global.

And back at home, I caught a glimpse of an article in the Times that tells me George is promising tax cuts to be announced in the autumn.  No not for you silly – for the rich, so he can get the economy moving.  You know, that thing that replaces you with a machine, or third world slave labour.  Or if you’re lucky maybe the austerity has driven wages low enough here now so you might get employed.  The rich boys can then fill their pockets and find ways to get you borrowing to spend more on their, designed to fail and be replaced, crap.  You can then get thoroughly indebted until you can’t cope and default.  When enough of your friends have defaulted as well, a big bank may have a big wobble, needing – you guessed it – a big bail out – which the government will give and then take the money from your public services.  Well they’re all a bureacratic waste of time anyway aren’t they.  Not like they do anything important, like looking after your health, education, safety, sanitation or anything.

Nice plan B George – anyone got C?

Trends to watch

  • Growing divides around the country.  In particular London and the South East compared to Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the North East.
  • Debt that was on central government books transfering elsewhere – to local government or to you, for instance.
  • Changes to the way figures particularly those relating to the deficit are calculated
  • Servicing debt by accumulating more debt.  On a long enough time line, everywhere is Greece.
  • The financial sector getting more money out of us.  Businesses being forced into credit card loans rather than business loans.  Using any changes as an excuse to change the terms of agreements, so fixed periods become shorter, loan periods become shorter and rates increase.
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