Cllr James Mustoe represents Mevagissey on Cornwall Council.
One of the things that first got me involved in politics at a relatively young age was the idea of the ‘Big Society’. The concept that people shouldn’t just sit back and moan at the powers that be, whether that be central government or local authority, but should instead grab the bull by the horns and take back ownership and responsibility for their communities spoke powerfully to me. It inspired me to take this to the extreme, get involved with local politics and run for office myself, and a couple of years later I found myself the youngest Conservative Councillor on Cornwall Council.
Two years on from that and despite its decline on the national scene, I am pleased to see that Big Society or perhaps its Cornish equivalent Bras Kowethas, is alive and well in Cornwall.
Cornwall is in a difficult position. While annihilated on the national scene, we retain what is essentially a Liberal Democrat-run local authority with all the problems that this represents. The administration blames everything on central government cuts but still finds money for its wishy washy pet projects. In a recent by-election the Lib Dems (successfully) campaigned by protesting against a council tax rise that they had proposed. The list goes on…
This brings me to the ever so glamorous subject of toilets. In an area like Cornwall, the tourist industry is a major contributor to our economy. It therefore follows that we should do everything we can to look after our visitors. Sadly the decision was made, admittedly under a previous Conservative-led administration, by Cornwall Council, to cease funding public toilets across the county back in 2011. However, what the previous administration did was set aside money to ease the transition from local authority funded toilets to ones that were run by town or parish councils or by other means.
However when the Lib Dems and their friends took over in 2013, the new administration accelerated the programme, while removing much of the funding put in place by the previous administration to ease the transition to what it was hoped would see funding by parish councils by 2014.
Since my election in 2014 preventing the closure of public lavatories is something I have campaigned for both publicly and privately.
There are five public lavatories in the area that I represent, and I am pleased to have worked with parish councils to ensure that one in each village has remained open. I have also helped get thousands of pounds of donations from local businesses for the Gorran Haven one, as well as additional £6,000 in funds for running costs from Cornwall Council that they would not have otherwise received. I believe I have done the best I can in challenging circumstances when I have sadly not found support from the majority of Cornwall Council.
The crown jewel of our toilet trouble though, and where we come back to that emphasis on Big Society, is with the public lavatories on the harbour in Mevagissey. Cornwall Council originally shut these based on the incorrect assumption that they had transferred them back to the landowner. After a bit of digging I discovered this was not the case and set about working with local businesses and the community to reopen them in time for this year’s summer season. With the backing of a very generous local business, along with funding that I fought tooth and claw to get from Cornwall Council to refurbish them, we were able to achieve this by the start of the summer break and re-open the toilets on Mevagissey harbour for ‘business’ just in time for the busy season.
This community spirit has continued and I am pleased to have subsequently led several volunteer parties in the Mevagissey division to spruce up areas that Cornwall Council and its predecessors had maintained but had since washed their hands of.
On a bigger picture, our six Cornish (Conservative) MPs have successfully lobbied the Government to take action on altering the charging of business rates on public lavatory operators, which is a major cost factor in their running. From 2018 local authorities will have the option to exempt public lavatory operators from paying business rates. I hope that by then, following the elections next year, the administration on Cornwall Council will have changed to one that supports the people of Cornwall.
In the meantime I am pleased to have practiced what I preach and to have worked within my community to bring about the positive change we need.