The row about Cornwall Council’s decision to spend half a million pounds on a bid to become European Capital of Culture growled on today. It has generated a war of words with each side entrenched and passionate in their position.
One fact we do know is the Conservative Group Leader, John Keeling was first in a queue of Councillors to call the decision in to the council’s own Scrutiny Committee. They will convene in a week or two to grill the man behind the project, Culture Portfolio Holder Julian German. He will be asked why he thinks this is a good time to spend that amount of money on a project that critics say has little chance of success.
First up defending the Council decision today in a number of exclusive interviews with CS, was Cornwall Labour Leader Tim Dwelly. He questioned the motives of the press statements issued by the Tories last week, including ones from MPs Steve Double and a copy n paste version from Scott Mann, which were ‘selective with the truth’ to put it politely.
“I’m amazed that our MPs could be so stupid as to muddle up capital investment and revenue spending
They are either stupid or they are lying – and who knows which is the case?!”
Mr Dwelly was referring to the Tory claims that the council should not be wasting money on this bid, and should be spending it on council services instead.
“The money for this is not coming from services, it’s not revenue funding” said the Cornwall Labour leader.
“It’s coming from the capital programme and that capital programme was originally European Match Funding. The fact that it can’t be used to match EU money because most of these MPs supported Brexit, makes it particularly amusing to hear them criticising this move. For example George Eustice claimed before the Brexit vote that there would be no loss of funding to Cornwall, and we all know that was absolute nonsense. And now having left Cornwall over £1billion worse off, these local Conservatives have the bare faced cheek to feign outrage that we should try to use our money to encourage new forms of investment to Cornwall”
Councillor Adam Paynter – Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Resources and, therefore the man in charge of the Council’s money, confirmed Mr Dwelly’s point.
“Yes” he told CS today “£140,000 was coming from the economic development pot – they pretty much spend that on whatever areas they think most worthwhile. Another £400,000 was coming from a match funding pot – which is basically there to match fund ideas, it was already ear marked for European funding, which clearly is not going to be required to the extent to what we thought because of Brexit”
“It’s not robbing money from Adult Social Care or the NHS, it’s not robbing money from anywhere else”
The Lib Dem Deputy Leader of the Council pointed out “We did move an amendment at the same cabinet to ensure that we actively sought funds from partners and supporters of the bid, which would reduce the liability on the council, which I think is important.
“For the first stage, for the £0.5m, we thought it was important that we asked our partners to contribute to reduce the taxpayers liability.” Cllr Paynter said that the council are still gathering responses from the requests sent out but concluded:
“It’s pretty sad though for any one in Cornwall who thinks Cornwall is so crap that it’s not worth attempting to bid or do something positive. The Tory agenda is cuts cuts cuts but we’ve been quite ambitious and done a number of things to try and make sure we promote Cornwall.
Things like taking the tax off at the airport, that was a massive gamble which most people didn’t want us to do but since then the airport has doubled in it’s throughput, and now the amount we pay into the airport is the lowest it’s ever been. We’ve more than halved Cornish taxpayer liability at the airport from when the Tories ran it. Sometimes you’ve got to be bold.
Cabinet has always tried to make sure that we are not all about cutting and doing less, we’re about still being ambitious for Cornwall”
The Capital of Culture 2023 bid is being strongly promoted and sponsored by Julian German, the independent cabinet member and the Portfolio Holder for Economy and Culture. He is supported by other independent colleagues in the cabinet, including leader John Pollard. The council is after all a Lib Dem/Independent coalition right now.
However the initiative has received cross party support, and indeed cross party opposition -the Tory hubris has fooled a couple of ageing Snozzle Lib Dem Councillors (Brown & Bull) to ride the populist wave of anger based on Tory spin. They’d do better to remind voters that by the end of this Tory government in 2020, Cornwall will receive absolutely nothing from London. That’s right £0.00
Cornwall Labour Leader Tim Dwelly again:
“The Economy Committee which I chair is cross-party and supports this. Most importantly of all, the way the money will be spent is all about investigating projects that could be worked up with other sources of funding, if for any reason the Capital of Culture bid fails. In other words, all the work that will be done will make it easier for other forms of funding like Arts Council money for instance
“This is an attempt by Cornwall Council to bring more investment to Cornwall. It’s particularly important now that the Brexit money has dried up, and that Government has failed to make good the loss of investment in Cornwall”
But now ‘cross party opposition’ is the main reason why John Keeling, Leader of the Tory group at Lys Kernow, has ‘called the decision in’ to use council jargon. This means the original decision, in this case to spend the £0.5m will be subject to a picking apart by committee in a week or two’s time, then get sent back to Cabinet to make the final decision, no doubt with the committee’s suggestions attached. The Scrutiny Committee questions the directorate and the portfolio holder Select Committee style, so Julian German can look forward to an uncomfortable afternoon to come. Scrutiny Committee meetings are open to the public.
“It’s the right of any Councillor to call a decision in but I exercised the right very quickly” Mr Keeling told CS in a conversation this afternoon.
“It’s a pretty poor decision, it needed to be widely consulted on before it got to this stage. Even the Mayor of Truro didn’t know this was happening so it doesn’t bode well.
The decision will be revisited and the decision itself is not to be implemented until such time as the Scrutiny Committee has looked at it”
He denied it was all a Tory whipped up plan, a warm up for the election campaign to come “It’s not just the Tories. Other members tried to call it in aswell but I was there first”
Cllr Keeling also criticised the choice to launch this bid a couple of months before the council elections, and is seeking to delay any action until the new Council is elected. This would of course do exactly as it is intended, and leave too little time to complete a bid by the October deadline.
“I don’t think it’s a very good decision at this time as we enter into the elections, and further this is a council that is always telling us it’s got very little money, but it’s got enough money to do a half million pound bid”
The Conservative Group Leader admitted he wasn’t entirely sure where the money would be coming from for the bid, but he was sure it could be moved and spent on services if the will was there.
“I’m not sure about the ring fencing. Ring fencing is something they haven’t been doing for a long time . There are certain funds like public health that are ringfenced. Most money could be moved to different directorates, so I don’t fully believe that but I’m not 100% sure of course”
Apparently unaware that the Economy committee had discussed and supported the bid Cllr Keeling continued “There’s been very little consultation on this. The committee that should have looked at it (Economy PAC) was not involved in it so that’s the first big mistake.
I’m not saying it shouldn’t go ahead, what I’m saying is that we need to investigate as to why we are prepared to spend that kind of money on a project like this with no guarantees and even if we do get it, we’ve got to spend even more at a time when we are struggling with Adult Social care and all the rest of it. I’m very pragmatic on this”
The Conservative leader denied this had anything to do with his own party’s cuts to Local Authorities like Cornwall Council.
“That’s been a thread all the way through this particular administration you know, whenever there is a problem blame it on government cuts but funding is coming down for various projects Whether its for housing or the money available through the Better Care Fund. We have to manage our money the best way we can and I don’t think at this particular time this is a good use of half a million pounds worth of funds. If they are going to invest money shouldn’t they be investing in essential services?”
Cllr Keeling concluded “There’s been a bad reaction to it, so lets get it before the Scrutiny Committee and lets get it sorted out.The pros and cons will come out, at the moment it has not been fairly looked at”
If Cornwall got through the first stage of bidding, it is said we would then have to spend significantly more money on the bid itself. When pushed on where this reported £10m would come from, Mr Dwelly conceded the detail of that wasn’t worked out yet, but said:
“It would be a mixture. It would leverage a greater willingness of the Arts Council to put money in and also there is this former European Match Funding Capital Programme. I think the simple answer is that it would be the equivalent of an EU fund and we would put our bit in just like we would do with what we hoped was going to continue”
But he finished with a stinging attack on the Tory attitude “Anti-culture plays well in an election year. Those who have criticised this have absolutely no understanding of how business in Cornwall operates. And we need to say that word ‘business’ because Creative Industries is a major piece of Cornish industry. They are completely out of touch with modern Cornish business”
“We’ve also had the Autumn Statement and the new chancellor gave no special money for Cornwall whatsoever” said Cllr Dwelly. “We’ve got Tory MPs trying to stop new investment in Cornwall through culture. It’s quite clear to me that the Tory approach to Cornwall now is “Make Cornwall Poor Again”
Meanwhile Rob Nolan, the affable Lib Dem Mayor of Truro, says he has been caught up in a “Tory led media storm” and admitted he’ll have to be careful now there’s an election coming up. “I should of course be in the habit of reminding everyone that at the root cause of this is savage Government cuts etc” he (half) joked today.
On the subject of an argument he has developed with Mr German whether or not he had been told of the bid before it was publicly announced, Mayor Nolan said he still hadn’t received a response from the Portfolio Holder. Cllr German has been asked to produce the evidence that Truro City Council was indeed contacted before the public were made aware, as he has claimed.
“I have written to him again this morning. For the third time of asking , ‘Can I have the documentary evidence referred to?’ I’ve asked three times . I asked on Friday and I asked on Thursday..
We are not listed as one of the partners. Truro City Council is not listed as one of the partners which underlines the fact that they haven’t really involved us. I included John Pollard and Kate Kennally in this time, so there should be a response of some sort”
Asked if he seriously had only heard about it first in the local media, he made clear:
“I’d heard talk of it some time ago, and I see now that it went to the Economic PAC (Tim Dwelly’s Committee) before Brexit, before the referendum, so some time early part of last year there was talk but they didn’t involve us no. I’m aware it’s a region bid, it’s a Cornwall wide bid not a Truro bid, so fair enough, if that’s what they want to do”
“But I am miffed that when I went up there when the City of Lights was about to collapse, and I asked for £10 – 15,000 otherwise it might not take place and they said no we haven’t got the money”.
The City of Lights costs £45,000 to put on and attracts approx 30,000 people every year said Mayor Nolan .”I went and found the money somewhere else”
Truro City Council meet tonight and Mayor Nolan says the bid will be discussed.