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Monday, 25 May 2015

A Case for Cornwall - Neither fish nor fowl!

Cornwall Council, through its leader John Pollard, has produced a document 'A Case for Cornwall'

Cornwall Council is currently responsible for a budget of just over £1.1 billion. In total there is up to £5 billion spent on providing public services in Cornwall.

Cornwall Council, as our local government, is responsible for around one fifth of public spending in Cornwall while four fifths are spent on our behalf by central government or central government agencies.

John Pollard's Case doesn't stand up. It is neither one thing or another. It is neither fish nor fowl.

On the one hand it is big in ambition for Cornwall Council - or, actually, democratically unaccountable  'public service delivery partners' - on the other hand it is woefully short of ambition for the people of Cornwall.

A Case for Cornwall will not lead to greater public accountability for delivery of public services in Cornwall. It is not about devolution to local communities or strategic accountability to the people of Cornwall.

Much of the Case talks in terms of 'piggy backing' on existing Westminster programmes or EU schemes controlled through Westminster to 'unlock' access to various pots of money.

The problem is that, almost without exception, the implementation of any benefit derived from these schemes will be implemented by bodies that are not directly accountable to the people of Cornwall through any elected body. Further, it is worse than this because more often than not the pots of money come with many central Westminster strings attached.

For example - take the LEP. This is a body which has been set up by central government - but how is it accountable? It certainly isn't accountable to the people of Cornwall. We can't remove its board members if we don't think it is doing a good job.

The LEP has been given a pot of money under a deal with central government called the 'Growth Deal'. This has been heralded as a major achievement for Cornwall. The problem is that the Growth Deal is about 'unlocking potential for development' in Cornwall - code for enabling the building of more houses. Worse still it is absolutely clear that the Cornwall and isles of Scilly LEP will be responsible to Westminster rather than Cornwall Council for the way that the fund is administered and used.

The headline is: 'Devolution to Cornwall' the reality is 'Disguised Central Control from Westminster'.

The Case is also inevitably rhetorical and unrealistic in areas where Cornwall might expect to see some real benefit. It is often like the wish list that the beauty queens of old would compile. John Pollard may as well wish for 'world peace' or 'an end to hunger' as for some of the things in the Case. Why would a Tory government which has just slashed £197 million from local government in Cornwall start to hand some of this back in the convoluted schemes to be found in the Case. It just won't happen while there exists a central government ideology of reducing local government funding to levels where it can't function properly.

Throughout the document John Pollard, through Cornwall Council, speaks as the 'voice of Cornwall'.

I think that, actually, the 'voice of Cornwall' is calling for real and meaningful change in the way that Cornwall is governed.

If Cornwall Council were serious about meaningful devolution to Cornwall and truly believed that Cornwall deserved 'parity' with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (as it says it does) it would be adding its voice to calls for a legislative Assembly which can take control of the £5 billion spent in Cornwall without reference to Westminster.

If Cornwall Council were serious about developing:

" ... a governance model which will strengthen local accountability, ensure democratic decision making and provide greater transparency to reconnect communities with public services."

it would recognise that it Cornwall Council itself needs to be reformed.

In fact the imposition of a single unitary authority in 2009 needs to be recognised as the failed experiment that it is.

We need to get rid of one single local authority and replace it with local government that truly is more locally accountable, democratic and community based. Local government which can operate within strategic and cohesive frameworks developed by a democratically accountable legislative Assembly.

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