1st August 2018
By Graham Smith
A row is brewing at Cornwall Council over the establishment of a new panel to “advise” on investments.
The main plank of the council’s investment project is a massive housebuilding programme, with most properties designed to be sold at profit, on the open market, as a way of financing services without raising local taxes.
Most councillors now accept that their 1,000-home project should never have been described as a “council house” building programme as none of the properties is intended to provide social housing. Instead, the emphasis is on what the council describes as “affordable” housing – usually defined as 80% of open market value.
Councillors yesterday (Tuesday) put off a decision over the composition of such a panel, with some unhappy about its purpose and concerned it could work contrary to the normal democratic scrutiny and oversight arrangements.
Officials are recommending that a small group of councillors – three Conservatives, two Liberal Democrats and two Independents – are all that is needed. They would be advised by a senior official.
The proposal excludes Labour and Mebyon Kernow representation, although these two parties between them got more than 11% of the vote in last year’s elections. Both parties currently have only four members in the council chamber.
The County Hall officers’ report says: “It is intended that the Cornwall Investment Programme Panel, in an advisory capacity, will comment on projects being progressed from the Investment Programme to Cabinet decision under the criteria of the programme.
“Providing an independent viewpoint on schemes, ensuring Cornwall Council remains focused on financial return and the delivery of the ambitions of Cornwall’s Local Plan, Strategic Economic Plan and Environmental Growth Strategy, the panel will aim to ensure the best use of public funding to support the prosperity of Cornwall, in the context of the Investment Programme.
“It will review post the appraisal processes and monitor the adherence to criteria and report its views to Cabinet, to inform decisions the Cabinet will be asked to make on investment opportunities. The panel is strictly an advisory body, and has no executive decision making powers.”
The report focuses on the council’s pursuit of commercial opportunities, adding: “It is expected that the panel will make comment on political issues they may have with each scheme for example geographical dispersal of investment, local economic impact, etc.”
A further report is now likely to be brought before the council’s Constitution and Governance Committee at a later date.