Since the Scottish referendum on independence, devolution and constitutional change has been a ‘hot topic’. The Tory party seems to believe that devolution means passing responsibility for public spending to politically appointed quangos. Meanwhile Labour would have us subsumed within a giant ‘South West’ region. However, the real betrayal is the Lib Dems – cheering on a supersized Cornwall Council from the side-lines, they would have us believe that local government can do the job that Cornwall desperately needs a National Assembly for. Now Cornwall Council have produced ‘A Case for Cornwall’ and are floating the red herring that Cornwall Council could eventually become a Cornish National Assembly. Here are 6 reasons why a ‘beefed up’ Cornwall Council can never be a National Assembly.
1. Local government accounts for around just 30% of total public spending in Cornwall – and with the decimation of local democracy, led by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats this is set to fall. It would take one hell of amount of supersizing to turn Cornwall Council into a national devolved government.
2. While all this supersizing is going on (while water is turned into wine) – what is happening to democratically accountable local government for Cornwall? We would lose real, locally driven government.
3. Cornwall Council is a single unitary authority. Even now people complain that it is too Truro-centric. What we need is local government that is more responsive to local needs not further centralisation that increased powers will inevitably bring. Yes – local government in Cornwall needs to be supported and enhanced, but it needs to be brought closer to the people - not made more remote.
4. Following the centralisation of local government in Cornwall to one unitary authority, Cornwall suffers from a massive democratic deficit. We have proportionally less top tier local councillors per capita than Devon, South West England, England, Wales or Scotland. This means that more and more tasks are taken by unelected council officers or politically appointed quangos. The last thing that we want is to move decision-making about such things as housing and development and health services even further away from OUR representatives and into the welcoming arms of greedy developers and corporate privatisation.
5. The only ambitious element contained within ‘A Case for Cornwall’ is the ambition for the people who run Cornwall Council to enhance their CVs. Cornwall deserves better and can do better – we need law-making powers - and control over a vastly greater range of public spending that is currently made on our behalf by people who ‘know what is best’ for us up in London.
6. Cornwall’s GVA is currently around 60% of the UK average. This means our economy is performing worse than some Eastern European countries. Time after time we qualify for EU funding yet we never seem to make any progress. Local government does not have the economic levers that are required to drive our economy forward and beefing up Cornwall Council will not address this need. If we are serious about improving our economy then we need to take charge, roll up our sleeves and get stuck in – not go running to Westminster every time we have an idea for permission and pocket money to give it a try.