Cornish Stuff can exclusively reveal just how much Cornwall Council has paid Lancashire consultants thinkingplace

One of the slides from the presentation

Cornwall Council’s apparent addiction to spending large amounts of council tax payer’s money on consultants continues.

Cornish Stuff can exclusively reveal just how much Cornwall Council has paid Lancashire based consultancy thinkingplace to help the leaders of Cornwall “tell the story of our assets, attributes, development areas and potential”

Council Leader Adam Paynter with PCC Alison Hernandez & Steve Double MP at yesterday’s Cornwall Leadership Board

The consultants presented their findings to the inaugural meeting of the Cornwall Leadership Board on Friday.

And now we can reveal that Council has spent a further £75,000 on ‘place specialists’ thinkingplace .

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Chaired by the Leader of the Council, Adam Paynter, the Leadership board is designed to show a  cross-party united front of Cornwall when dealing with Westminster, potential investors and other external bodies.

Another day, another Leader’s board – and one more strategic narrative

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The findings of the consultation by thinkingplace will be the core of something the board will publish in early 2018 called the “Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Strategic Narrative”.

Everything was fine until John Till, director and founder of thinkingplace stood up to make his presentation.

It started suspiciously when he said how surprised he and his company were that the residents of Cornwall have such a large affection for Cornwall. We have the second best ‘place brand’ in the country after London, he said, and we need to exploit it further.

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It wasn’t them but it could’ve been

What followed was half an hour of hackneyed consultant speak that wouldn’t have been out of place on the BBC’s W1A.

For example, to illustrate their ‘big idea’, “Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly: embrace our ecosystem” they used this slide :


Their ‘big idea’ was split into 4 ‘themes’

Theme 1 – living land and sea
Theme 2 – energising entrepreneurship: thinking space
Theme 3 – tourism: catalyst for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly
Theme 4 – place of taste

What Cornwall needs to do, we were advised,  is to endorse a “Place Plan – develop a plan to ensure activity is aligned, identify and deliver quick wins and determine channels and activity”.

The real problem with this presentation comes when the consultant speak is translated: there was nothing new in any of the ideas presented, except for the expensive sounding appointment of a ‘Strategic Place Manager’ who will oversee a ‘Place Board’ made up of ‘Place Ambassadors’ –  which funnily enough was the same ‘unique solution for Cornwall’ thinkingplace made to Coventry, Kettering, Darlington, Blackburn etc and all the other councils that have used their services.

As one veteran councillor put it to us after the presentation “If I hear the phrase ‘Sense of Place’ one more time I’ll throttle who ever says it!”

LEP Chairman Mark Duddridge remarked more diplomatically to the committee “This is more like where we are than where we want to be”

There was nothing in the ideas suggested that hasn’t been floating around for the last 15 years at least. Brand Cornwall, strong identity, use our heritage, set up a ‘Cornish embassy’ in London etc etc.

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Friday’s presentation could very easily have been written by internal officers, copying and pasting from various other Council / LEP ‘strategic narratives’ like the Catalyst for Change, Environmental Growth Strategy, Vision 2030 or the Culture White Paper .

That’s because the £75k was spent on asking some people in Cornwall what they think is the way forward, and then thinkingplace collated the answers and presented them back to us.

As one Conservative councillor quipped  afterwards “If we want wealth creation in Cornwall we should all become consultants!”

And of course, the external consultants couldn’t see much beyond tourism as the saviour of Cornwall’s flagging economy – despite it being the cause of persistent low wages in unsecure work and the catalyst for the gross inflation of house prices that force locals out. Tourism was the ‘brand gateway’.

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“The visitor economy has a challenging narrative” Mr Till told us “How is it that we send 5 million people home happy yet we still have lots of negativity about low wage economy and lack of potential for growth? The narrative has to change”.

And then he said how brilliant it was that Ginsters is selling ‘Brand Cornwall’ all over the place.

thinkingplace say that during August and September 2017,  they undertook an ‘extensive programme of engagement’.

The engagement programme included

  • 116 1:1 conversations with people working in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, including 61 from private sector organisations, 30 from public agencies, 10 Councillors, 8 Council Officers and 7 from the education sector.
  • Seven sector focus groups on; research and innovation, community and voluntary sector, environment and climate, agriculture forestry food and fish, BID managers, Transport and infrastructure, tourism culture and heritage.
  • Three areas based workshops engaging with Members of Community Network Panels in Camelford, Falmouth and Penryn and St Austell.
  • An online survey to approximately 60 young people who regularly engage with Young People Cornwall, which achieved approximately 50% response rate.

Can that be considered ‘extensive’ ?

You can find more of their report here

You can watch replay a of the webcast here

The council responded by telling us:

“In the recently published results of the Council’s residents survey, many of the 11,000 people who responded said that ‘improving job prospects’ is important to them.  This is reflected too in the Council’s Cabinet priorities which pledges to invest across Cornwall to create jobs, provide homes and improve lives.

How Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly competes for business and investment with other parts of the country and how we deal with the challenge of the loss of millions of EU funding following Brexit in less than two years’ time is key to our economic future.

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Through an open and competitive process, specialist company thinkingplace are undertaking research and information gathering to help us tell the story of our assets, attributes, development areas and potential,

They have been commissioned to help Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly develop a competitive edge to work with national and international businesses on what we have to offer and why they should invest here. This work is expected to help attract millions of pounds of investment into Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

thinkingplace have been paid £75,000 for this work, which is co-funded by the LEP and the Council.”

It’s up to the Leadership Board and the Councils of Cornwall and Scilly how much of this they will push to implement.

Unfortunately as the presentation and subsequent discussion over ran, there was no time left for the Leadership Board to discuss the further items on the agenda including the update on Cornwall’s Devolution Deal monitoring including the strategic case for health and social care devolution.

With twisted irony, at the same time as this presentation but just along the corridor, Councillors were being briefed on the draft budget proposals to be published next week. Dept Leader Julian German was telling them of the ‘significant budget challenges’ and how the budget is ‘unbalanced’ to the tune of £30 million.


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thinkingplace presentation

Theme 1 – living land and sea. Ideas for taking this forward:
 Environmental growth to encourage businesses, communities and individuals to work together to increase environmental, social and economic prosperity
 A land and seascape that makes this a great place to live and attracts visitors, businesses and investors underpinned by our culture, heritage and creativity
 To maximise the potential of our natural capital, including our renewable energy and strategic location for satellite and space industry
 Promote public access to our land and seascape and cultural heritage, to promote health and wellbeing for all
 Maximise TV and film links, using landscape and seascape to attract high value production and post production facilities

Theme 2 – energising entrepreneurship: thinking space.
 Build on the distinctive strengths of Cornwall’s communities (polycentric growth), such as digital connectivity of Camborne/Redruth, growing the administrative and retail centre of Truro, Newquay/Bude manufacturing, food production expertise and capacity of Bodmin etc
 A Cornwall embassy in London to attract inward investment, increase trade and government relations presence and show case products and services from Cornwall.
 Identify and energise place and citizen heroes and business ambassadors
 Mentoring and career pathways for individuals and businesses to improve performance and enable upward career progression within and between businesses, including our strong and small micro sector
Theme 3 – tourism: the catalyst for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

 Strategic approach to visitor economy and events for example Council exploring scope to reconfigure economic growth service with a Tourism Partnership and Cultural Partnership
 Deliver quality improvements across the sector to deliver a year round offer
 Capitalise on the tremendous value of brand Cornwall and Isles of Scilly and positive perceptions of our many visitors to support our place plans
Theme 4 – place of taste.
 Increase the use of the provenance of Cornwall and the IoS products to underpin quality products (for example the Taste of Scilly Food Festival)
 Promote the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly brand/s in relevant markets to increase market penetration and scale
 Develop new food and drink products and services that add value to local produce,
 Enhance the image of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly as a centre of
food excellence

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