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Thursday, 21 November 2013

How will you pay for an Assembly - Cornwall can't afford it!

Next up in my series of blogs looking at some of the myths that the opponents of devolution often peddle is that old chestnut of affordability.

How often do you hear "An Assembly will never work - how can we possibly afford it?" Of course the Westmister parties quite often preface this at the moment with "In these times of austerity ..."

This question and the underlying sentiment shows a woeful lack of knowledge on behalf of the peson posing it.

If you're not really into politics then you might not know why the question is ridiculous - it might even seem quite reasonable. If you are a unionist politician then you probably know why it is ridiculous - and yet you will continue to pose it because it is a great way to pull the rug from under a desire for democratic self-determination.

The way that devoloution works is that a financial settlement is is negotiated and then this settlement becomes the budget of the devolved body. Very simple really.

For Cornwall the settlement will be based on what the UK governement would normally expect to spend on the areas of devolved government in Cornwall. In other words a law-making Cornish Assembly would not cost anybody any more than they already pay.

People across the UK pay taxes and some of the tax is used to pay for government services in Cornwall. Devolution would give the power to Cornwall to decide how best to spend the money that is already being spent - no additional costs for either people who live in Cornwall or those that live elesewhere.

In fact there is a strong argument that devolution would save the UK money in the long term. Westminster has done an awful job of looking after Cornwall's economy. Our GDP is less than 75% of the European average - our economy is similar to that of several Eastern European countries. This is why we qualify for European funding. We believe that a Cornish Assembly could improve our economy as it would understand it a lot better than an assistant to an under-under secretary working from a broom ccupboard 300 miles away in London. If the economy improves then Cornwall would contribute more to the UK pot through a higher amount of tax.

We do need to negotiate a realistic settlement in first place though. Westminster has consistently underfunded Cornwall for decades - to Cornwall's detriment and to the advantage of English regions and cities. We need a fair settlement based on what the UK government should be spending in Cornwall compared to England. Wales received a notoriously unfair settlement and getting a fair amount of funding from Westminster is now proving to be like trying to wring blood from a stone.


  1. What you say is completely true. We would be able to negotiate a settlement, probably along the lines of the existing Barnett Formula under which NI, Scotland and Wales receive their funding. In principle increasing devolution and therefore democratic accountability has to be a good thing for the UK.

    We already do qualify for European funding through the dysfunction of our economy...I'm not sure that being in an assembly would improve our qualification for such funding. What it would do is make the decisions on how to spending closer to the people of Cornwall which probably isn't a bad thing unless you are worried about the competence of people already making spending decisions in Cornwall. We would have to substantially improve the quality of people who are involved in politics in Cornwall for me to feel easier about this prospect than i am now.

    The main concern i have, which you address is that in 2 specific areas, that have received some publicity recently, the level of funding we receive for the education of our pupils and the patients in our hospitals and Doctor's surgery already appears to be unfair and it's something that Westminster seems determined to ignore.

    I'm not entirely convinced that an Assembly would cost the people of Cornwall the same or less. The reason for the Assembly would be to have law making powers, probably more to the point, tax and revenue raising powers. What would be the point of having those powers without exercising them. I'm watching with interest, the debates around Scottish independence, especially those parts that concern the economy and future revenue requirements.

    Nice article.

  2. Hi Tyrone,

    I didn't think that I was saying that devolution would enable us better to qualify for European funding. I would agree with you that it would enable us to spend the money to Cornwall's best advantage rather than it be ing used by quangos to subsidise projects across the whole of England.

    I would also agree that the level of spending on Cornwall's health and education services is woefully inadeqauate when compared to English cities and regions. This is the point that I was making about the fairnaess of the original devolution settlement. We would need to try and avoid the problem that Wales has because their settlement was unfairly low. We need to negotiate a fair settlement - not just what we are already receiving which is unfair.

    By the way the 'Barnett Formula' would not come into play until after devolution. Barnett is used to proportionalise devolved governments budgets following a spending review by the UK government. You have a settlement first and this is then adjusted each time there is a spending review.

    As to the quality of the people - you are bordering on the 'too stupid' part of the unionist trilogical (if there is such a word) mantra 'Too,poor, too small and too stupid' I hope to address the too stupid argument in a later blog.

    MK is not calling for immediate devolution of wholesale tax raising powers or control of the welfare system. We have identified a range of areas that would be suitable for devolution to a Cornish Assembly - again a subject that I hope to address in a later blog. This would mean that once a settlement was agreed it would be varied only by the Barnett process - meaning that variations would be decided in Westminster and not in Cornwall.

    The situation in Scotland is much different to Cornwall. They have been able to develop a much more robust economy since devolution and are boldly looking to take on the responsibilities of independence. You are right - the coming months will be very interesting.


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