Cornwall Council’s Devolution Document – A Missed Opportunity

In the past fortnight, Cornwall Council has published its draft proposal for devolution and centralisation. Known as ‘A Case for Cornwall’, it lays out what they believe devolution should mean for the Duchy.

The appearance of this draft document is to be welcomed as a starting point, and indeed, its very publishing in draft form is a sign that Cornwall Council recognises that the territory is ripe for devolution. However, there is one problem. It effectively outlines ways in which Cornwall Council should obtain greater powers – the words ‘Cornish Assembly’ do not appear at all in the document.

Is this a case of the councillors wanting to earn more power for themselves, or is this just a starting point (the document is only a draft, after all) to allow wider public discussion about the form of devolution Cornwall wants and needs?

The ‘Case for Cornwall’ document mentions how the council have realised “significant property dividends” by “halving the office estate”. It also lays out its aims for devolving the Crown Estates and Marine Management Organisation, developing local carbon taxes, putting together Infrastructure Boards and Urban Development Corporations, retaining Stamp Duty to build affordable homes, skills funding, putting together integrated budgets and taking ownership of all English Heritage sites within the territory of Cornwall.

These demands sound impressive, and indeed, in many cases, they are – particularly wanting to ensure that English Heritage sites are managed by Cornish people – who understand far more clearly the true cultural significance and relevance of these sites. However, for me there are too many things missing in these demands. Cornwall has some of the poorest transport links in Britain. Why does it take over three hours to travel the 111.4 miles from Exeter St.Davids station to Penzance by rail? Why does Cornwall still not have its own University? Why does Cornwall still have by far the most expensive water bills in the UK? So, why not include in this draft document plans for taking some responsibility for transport and education within Cornwall? Aren’t these some of the fundamentals of any true transfer of power? Equally, what about aiming for some real meaningful demands to keep a far higher of taxation raised within the territory to actually spend in Cornwall?

Councillor Stephen Richardson of Mebyon Kernow has also pointed out, on his own personal blog (note these are his personal views, not necessarily those of Mebyon Kernow): “Local government accounts for around just 30% of total public spending in Cornwall – and this is set to fall further…it would take one hell of amount of supersizing to turn Cornwall Council into a national devolved government. While all this supersizing is going on – what is happening to democratically accountable local government for Cornwall?”

To enhance the concerns of what needs to happen to Cornwall in a devolved world, this week’s Regional Gross Value Added data from The Office of National Statistics underlines the need for a new and better deal for Cornwall. The document reveals that the UK Average GVA in 2013 was £23,394. In Cornwall & The Isles of Scilly, the average figure was £15,403 (only West Wales & The Valleys had a lower figure). It seems to me that the “supersized council” that Richardson predicts would emerge if Cornwall Council’s draft document was accepted would struggle to be able to make a significant improvement in the GVA statistics. It would take a clearly democratically elected Assembly For Cornwall with real power, not a larger council to make a difference.

Cornwall Council are to be congratulated for starting the ball rolling by recognising that devolution needs to happen in Cornwall – but we need to use their draft document as a springboard for something bigger, something bolder – An Assembly For Cornwall.

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