In the last week councillors have been scrutinising the Conservative Cornwall Council’s budget of £55 million of cuts to Cornish services. Every department is facing it, including social care and children’s services where cuts can have life and death consequences. Even social worker roles are going. Opposition councillors have been working collectively to try to raise the alarm across the scrutiny committees and warn the Conservative Cabinet that the cuts will have drastic impacts. However, as the Conservatives have a majority in the Council, they are also entitled to have a majority on every scrutiny committee. Therefore, what should be non-political committees looking closely at the impact of the budget and telling it like it is, have all turned into nodding dogs ‘recommending’ the budget regardless.
One area where the red flag should be waving is in Adult Social Care. Last Tuesday, the Council declared a ‘critical incident’ in social care. We have about 700 people who we know need care in Cornwall, but the Council hasn’t been able to provide it for them. 180 are in hospital, the rest are at home. The critical incident doesn’t seem to entitle Cornwall to any extra resources and as we are so short of carers, the Council are talking about redeploying staff and sharing out/rationing care so that the people who have 4 visits per day drop down to two thus freeing up their carers to visit more people. The voluntary sector isn’t equipped to fill the gaps in the most serious of cases when people are bedbound and incontinent. We also found out that at a time when they are most needed, Cornwall Care is shutting 3 care homes due to lack of staff and internal issues. Just when we most need more care beds in the Duchy, we are losing over a hundred.
We had a meeting of the whole council on Tuesday. The ‘critical incident’ in social care was announced to the press shortly afterwards but not a word was mentioned by the Council leader or portfolio holder during the meeting. We were also left to find out about the closure of the Cornwall Care homes after the event. We can’t help our residents if we aren’t told what is happening, nor can we ask the difficult questions and hold the administration to account. It is a shame that Conservative Cornwall Council seem to be following the lead of their national party in showing contempt for democratically elected bodies and proper scrutiny.
There was a petition to ban trail hunting on Council land signed by 10,000 people at that council meeting. Hunting foxes with dogs was banned in 2004. In trail hunting, the dogs follow an animal scent laid down by a member of the hunt, rather than a real fox scent. However, the hounds can easily get confused, pick up a real animal scent and end up crossing roads, nature reserves and private land, endangering wildlife and domestic animals. It can often end up being a real hunt, by accident or arguably, by design.
In Cheshire the council banned trail hunting after doing a public consultation asking local people for their views. The Labour Group proposed that we do the same – that we ask the people of Cornwall what they think. However, the Conservative Group led the vote against asking the Cornish people for their views and now the decision on trail hunting will be made solely by the Conservative Cabinet. Another disappointment and example of Conservatives shutting down democracy rather than opening it up.