Election 2013: Richard McCarthy

Name: Richard McCarthy

Ward: St Agnes

 

    • What, if any, changes would you like to see made to transport provision for the islands? What would you do to influence this if you were elected?

I would hope to get back on to the Transport Committee now its remit has been extended to cover island provision as a whole rather than merely offering a half-baked role monitoring what was supposed to be progress on the failed Route Partnership scheme. A number of significant transport issues are facing Scilly: time is running out for us to be able to hang on to funding currently still available for the improvement scheme on St Mary’s quay which is all ready to run. But there has been a lack of any sense of urgency in Penzance and county hall on work that needs to be done at that end without which we cannot go ahead.

I can see the desirability of having a year-round sea link to the mainland for passengers as well as freight. Unless there is a radical change of heart in Whitehall about subsidising fares then running the Scillonian or a similar-sized successor 12 months a year is likely to be a non-starter. But I understand there are jet boats beginning to be operated in the UK with a 30-40 seat capacity which could have a part to play here or alternatively a speedier successor to the Gry Maritha, if it had three or four times the passenger carrying capacity of the current vessel, might be a way forward. On the airport front, everything possible needs to be done to secure its long-term viability. For years Councillors were not made properly aware of the worrying state of the runway and there has been a failure until very recently to recognise the importance of setting sufficient money aside to pay for repairs and improvements. This raises the question of whether or not the Local Authority is the ideal outfit to run the airport going forward as efficiently as it could be run.

Like the majority of people I would welcome the brisk return of an affordable helicopter service but despite the recent publicity from our MP I wonder how realistic this option is at the moment. Nevertheless I am concerned about the capacity of present Skybus arrangements, despite recent enhancements, to fulfil the needs of visitors and locals alike. Between them the company, the airport and Cornwall Council need to address the virtual absence of public transport access by putting on a connecting shuttle bus that links the terminal at Newquay with Truro station and Treliske. A similar solution is required for Exeter airport where the bus journey to St David’s station remains inconveniently infrequent.

The sheer cost of travel by air is an important issue, particularly for families in my view. There is no doubting Scilly’s appeal to the older generation but if we are to encourage the next generation to come or stay as well, then ways of cutting charges for children must be looked at. Our local boat service on St Agnes offers a family saver ticket. Maybe something similar could be set up by Skybus or other future providers.

    • What are you views on how to tackle the waste issues on the islands? 

On St Agnes we have benefited by developing our waste site right above Perconger Quay. Basically this happened at the same time as the quay itself was being rebuilt and there was enough surplus material to contain the site properly. Also by locating it in a prominent position adjacent to the pub and the refuse dispatch point where (although screened) it was at least partly visible to visitors, this served to emphasise to them the real issue waste presents for an island as well as encouraging locals and our efficient waste manager on Agnes to keep the area as tidy as possible.

Obviously, the matter of the Moorwell Alp is on a different scale entirely. The Council has finally obtained considerable amounts of money from DEFRA to implement a waste strategy embracing the removal of the Alp and the replacement of the near 40 year-old incinerator by a waste-to-energy plant. But there are gaps and perhaps potential flaws in the strategy itself, let alone in its implementation, which recent belated consultation exercises have served to highlight. Waste consultants SLR have been closely and visibly involved lately and I am hopeful that they will prove capable of demonstrating the expertise necessary to help the Council and the community find a way through the conflicting arguments about how the waste operation at Moorwell is to be modernised and the Alp removed without jeopardizing the tight time-line for the work that DEFRA is apparently insisting on. Work on airport improvements has been speeded up by establishing an Airport Management Group involving Councillors and Council officers working alongside consultants. The same way forward should be tried with waste.

    • Do you believe the Council needs to be more open with the local electorate? How will you personally influence this if you are elected? 

Of course, no Council should be in the business of concealing from the public what should be made available. But there is a two-way street here. The Council of the Isles of Scilly was among the first in the country to webcast and audio-record the majority of its meetings. Initially there was evidence that a lot of people were listening and watching but I don’t think there have been any figures on this published recently. It’s also certainly true that only where big issues are concerned do more than a handful of the electorate make a point of attending meetings in person. I’ve always tried myself to make sure since I joined the Council that items discussed in camera were kept to a minimum and most recently have pushed through the decision to record all those items held in camera so as to help ensure that an accurate and informative minute of such items is available for public scrutiny.

I was able to use existing procedures in the Council chamber back in 2010 to make the public aware of the size of the Chief Officer pay rise and the scale of potential financial problems facing the Authority in terms of the cost of paying out on accrued leave for some Council staff. In addition to the weekly pages of the Cornishman, the electorate now has both Radio Scilly and its on-line counterpart Scilly Today covering Council activities on a daily basis. The Authority has perhaps not been as quick as it might have been in adapting to this exposure and as a result this can mean that maybe it’s stories that show the Council in a poor light rather than the ‘good news’ stories which get more attention. It would be unrealistic to expect any news outlet (except in places like North Korea) to run a constant stream of back-patting items but on issues from Freedom oI Information requests to the departure of the last headmaster the Council’s communication strategy has been shown to be in a muddle.

    • The Council is facing a budget ‘black hole’ in the coming years. What are your top priorities for tackling this situation? 

The previous management regime failed to come up with an Asset Management Plan for the Authority despite warnings from auditors. An outline document has just been produced. The previous regime also failed to come up with a medium term Financial Strategy. Again, auditors and some Councillors have cried out for one. This all means that a ‘silo-mentaility,’ which can pervade organisations large and small, has prevailed for too long in our Local Authority.

Individual departments, given their head, will find it easier to spend rather than save. But more by luck than judgment and because the Authority up until now has not faced the percentage level of cuts faced by larger Councils, underspends rather than overspends have been the order of the day here. This is no longer the case and rather late in the day the penny has dropped with the arrival on the scene of an interim Chief Executive and a brief to restructure management so that it performs a tighter strategic role.

Mr Keel is already reported as saying that a senior management team of no more than three would make more sense than the current size of top team, in order to better streamline and prioritise activities. It is also to be hoped that his proposed revision of Governance arrangements will also lead to Members of the new Council lors working together in good and effective relationships with officers. The panic button shouldn’t be pushed. Indiscriminate cut backs will more than likely damage or even emasculate front-line services, leaving back-office functions that need close scrutiny untouched and any problems with ‘black holes’ sidelined. Once and only once priorities have been agreed can the necessary remedial action be taken so that by 2014/5 the Authority is back on an even Keel.

    • What do you feel is the biggest problem facing the islands? And what will you do, if elected, to try to tackle this issue? 

Aside from transport and money but linked in particular to the latter is the issue of Scilly’s ageing population. We have a higher percentage of people over the age of 65 than anywhere else in the country, including well-known senior citizen venues such as Eastbourne. Yet at the same time as provision for the elderly will inevitably become an incresing drain on resources for the islands, we need to try and make sure that there are still sufficent people of working age in the community to keep it viable.

The cost of keeping frail and vulnerable elderly people in hospital or residential homes is high. Better to provide facilities that allow them to stay in their own more appropriate domestic surroundings. We now have our Adult Social Care team working with health colleagues up at the hospital so unnecessary duplication of work effort can be minimised. If joint working like this can’t be made to work in Scilly it can’t work anywhere.

However, with domestic accommodation at a premium on the islands and Park House alone offering a refuge for the elderly infirm (but one that is increasingly required to house those with some form of dementia), more appropriate space needs to be found locally for people growing older in properties that in terms of size and lay-out no longer fit their needs. Hence the proposed scheme for mainly two bed so-called ‘life-time’ apartments planned with Cornwall Rural Housing Association up on the Carn Thomas secondary school site, Cash for this from the Departmental for Health could be available from the end of May. Failing that we will have to put our thinking caps on again and do a fresh options analysis on the way forward.

    • How involved should the Council be in funding tourism-related activities like the Tourist Information Centre? 

One of the things that surprised me on first becoming a Councillor was that funding support for tourism was not a statutory responsibility for the Authority. And yet a degree of support was surely appropriate, given the importance of tourism to Scilly’s economy. Today we now have the Island Partnership to which the Council contributes and which has produced the current Simply Scilly brochure and run this year’s Walk Scilly event. Personally I would like to see the Simply Scilly website, which is still in need of improvement to my mind, come under the Partnership’s supervision and in due course ditto with the TIC too. The Council should still continue to commit funds to its operation but the whole point of finally setting up the Partnership I thought was to have one port-of-call for people and one organisation responsible for tourism development and backed by the industry on the islands.

    • What do you feel makes you able to speak on behalf of the local electorate in Scilly as a Councillor? 

Two things: although I represent an off-island, I make sure I do try and keep tabs on what is happening on St Mary’s. I always aim to speak my mind but at planning meetings, for instance, if it is something affecting St Mary’s in particular I will always listen to what a range of St Mary’s Members have to say before opening my mouth.

Secondly, I made a commitment when I was first elected in 2005 that I would do my best to attend every single Council meeting and Council committee meeting I was listed to attend and make sure I famliarized myself as much as possible with the paperwork for that meeting.

The result has been that I reckon I spend at least 40-50 hours a week on Council business and have managed to miss only one solitary meeting in eight years and that was last November when I was stranded at Newquay airport for 48 hours!

    • If elected, how will you maintain contact with the local electorate? Will you hold regular surgeries or similar events? 

I don’t believe this is an issue on St Agnes at the moment. When I’m not attending meetings on St Mary’s I’m pretty much always contactable. Anyone with planning or other Council issues on Agnes knows where to find me. They know I will help if I can. Mind you, I suspect most islanders feel I go on about the Town Hall too much.

Over almost a decade now my involvement with the Duchy Tenants Association as well the Council (and more recently as island rep for the major rat eradication project on Agnes) has found me in almost everyone’s front room or kitchen on the island at some time or another.

    • What has been your biggest achievement in life so far? 

In my life on Scilly my part in helping to bring about the provision of our three affordable housing units on St Agnes; in life generally my (lucky) achievement in helping to bring into the world four wonderful children – the eldest turns 40 next month – who in turn have provided me to date with eight healthy grandchildren.

    • Do you believe the current composition of the Council, with thirteen elected St Mary’s representatives, and two for each of the off-islands, is correct? If not, what changes would you like to see? 

On the face of it, having 21 Councillors representing such a tiny population seems crackers. But given the number of committees we currently have on the Council and the number of other representative bodies Councillors are expected to serve on because of the wide range of reponsibilities that have been heaped on to Local Authorities by Government in recent years, then a reduction would potentially dilute the democratic input into the Town Hall and even on the mainland, where Scilly’s interests need to be protected.

But all that begs the question as to whether or not the present Governance arrangements for the Authority are fit for purpose. I have only been a Councillor since 2005 but I suspect the way the Authority has been run has not changed significantly in the past 20 years. With our interim Chief Executive these arrangments are going to be put under the spotlight in the next few months, not least in the interests of financial prudence.

One of the outcomes could be new ways of working that make it easier for there to be fewer Councillors. As things stand, with next to no political party involvement in steering Council policy, then I feel it is appropriate for each inhabited island to have a minimum of two voices representing them but ready to speak for Scilly as a whole as and when required. This maybe a bit of a messy old unmathematical compromise but if too many of us get our slide-rules out and the question of proportional representation starts to cloud the issue, then to my mind that will be a recipe for division and diversion in the community when we need discussion, yes, but as much unity as possible if the Authority is going to work effectively.

    • Do you believe Mundesley House should continue in its current form? If not, what changes would you like to see made? 

I have seen the on-line debate and noted the widely differing views on the subject. The issue seems to have been prompted on this occasion by the news at the end of January that an independent report on Mundesley would be going initially to school Governors and the Children’s and Young Person’s committee. I have not sat on that committee in the past but I look forward to seeing what the report has to say on the subject and what changes it may recommend.

Clearly a cost benefit analysis will need to be conducted to measure the value of boarding provision at Mundesley for the wellbeing of off-island children against possible alternative arrangements. But it will be a mistake if the views of parents and young people as well as the wider community on Scilly are not fed into this process.