Last week saw the return to council business and Communities Scrutiny Committee, together with several meetings being cancelled or rearranged but a fairly slow start. This week although only two days in, promises to be very different.
Monday was the first training session for the new Patients Commissioning pilot. Because I have been working to pull together the various Patient Participation groups from all the surgeries in SE Cornwall, the new Kernow Commissioning Group (run by Doctors and will replace the Primary Care Trust in April) decided that we would be a good area to launch a pilot, to give patients the opportunity to decide on what services were needed for a particular patient group. This is a very responsible task, as if successful the idea will be taken across Cornwall and a Patient Commissioning board will be set up to help inform the work of the main board.
Today was a full meeting of the Council. We failed to make decisions on a couple of items. I dont know whether it is a reluctance to stand up and be counted this close to an election (if so it can only get worse between now and May) but having at the last meeting before Christmas chosen to defer the local Framework for further discussion and thereby making a further full council on 12th February necessary, today three proposals for the implementation of Council Tax Benefit were all voted out and there will now have to be another council meeting on 29th January as a decision must be made before the end of the month.
The Government has decided that Councils will now be responsible for paying this benefit, the problem is that they have only given Cornwall 87.5% of the money that they used to pay out. The rules say that there must not be any extra charges to pensioners who are half of the claimants. Therefore the disabled, low waged and other vulnerable groups would have to bear the whole burden of this shortfall, meaning they would suddenly have to find about £250 extra a year when other benefits are also under attack. The council say that there is no money available to help make up the shortfall but I do not believe that the people who will be asked to pay this charge will be able to and we will only drive them into debt and the courts for non payment. This cannot be right.
The decision on whether to employ a new Chief Executive or simply to have a Head of Paid Service (which function the CEO has also performed) will be left to the new council in May to decide but a panel has been set up to recommend an interim appointment to look after things until a permanent post is recruited. No new permanent appointments will be made to the Core Leadership Team (Service Directors) in the interim either so they will be down to three. Suddenly after almost four years the whole shape of Cornwall Council is changing rapidly.