Jeremy Rowe

Cornwall Councillor for the Parishes of Egloshayle, St Breock, St Ervan, St Eval, St Issey, St Mabyn & St Tudy Learn more

Questions to Cabinet dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders

by Jeremy Rowe on 13 January, 2010

New County Hall

Earlier today I went down to New County Hall to observe a meeting of Cornwall Council’s Cabinet. Under the government’s “Strong Leader Model” a council’s Cabinet is the main decision-making body of a local authority (although we are always told that the Full Council remains sovereign). According to the constitution, only councillors who are members of this body are entitled to speak or vote on recommendations, but it is to the Leader of the Council’s credit that he has continued the tradition of allowing backbenchers to speak to items on the agenda (although we have no vote), particularly now there are 123 members of the Council.

So I was grateful to the Leader, Alec Robertson, for inviting me to speak on agenda item 7 today, the stylishly-titled “Office Accommodation Vision 2010-15“. The jist of this item is that the Council are looking to make the best use of the office buildings they have inherited after the merger of the seven previous councils and to dispose of those that aren’t required. (I don’t necessarily have an issue with this in principle, provided the main consideration is what is in the interests of local communities.) The report makes mention of reducing the number of principal office buildings from 78 to 30 by 2015 and also commissions a “feasibility and business case” for the creation of a new Bodmin office.

There were two main parts to my question. Firstly, could the administration provide a list of the 48 premises (a reasonably specific number) that it has earmarked for disposal? Secondly, with regard to the new building in Bodmin, the Cabinet report stated that the feasibility study should “examine the effect a new office would have on service provision in other towns in east Cornwall”. How, I asked, could the Cabinet take a decision in isolation on the future of Higher Trenant (as they will at their meeting on 25th January) before this study had taken place? Shouldn’t the estate be examined as a whole?

Rather than bring in the relevant Cabinet Member, Mr Currie, the Leader attempted to field these questions himself. He said that we couldn’t be told which buildings had been identified because the review hadn’t started yet. Fair enough, I countered, but how then was such a specific figure of 48 arrived at? He repeated that the review hadn’t started yet and attempted to move on to the next speaker, but I reminded him that I had also asked about Higher Trenant. He shrugged his shoulders, muttered something about the next meeting and duly moved on. The assembled councillors, journalists and members of the public were all none the wiser for the exchange.

Much as I am grateful to the Leader for inviting my questions, there doesn’t really seem to be much point if there’s no danger of receiving a meaningful answer. I would have liked to have heard from the relevant portfolio-holder, Jim Currie, who spent most of the meeting arms folded, tutting, frowning and muttering under his breath. I wanted to help him get things off his chest and explain to everybody why the report he was responsible for was such a complete mess of contradictions. I wanted to give him the opportunity to explain why everything in the report pointed to the possibility that these decisions have already been taken and that any subsequent “consultation” will simply be an exercise in window dressing. Sadly I didn’t get the chance. But I’ll try again on the 25th January.

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