‘The Independent’ newspaper reported yesterday (4th July) that Cornwall is to follow Manchester in winning devolution for NHS services, and an announcement is expected by Chancellor George Osborne in this week’s budget.
The consequences, according to the report, will be Cornwall taking control of £2bn worth of health, care and welfare by 2020, with some services coming under direct Cornish control as early as April 2016. Under a deal, Cornwall Council and the Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group would jointly look after the services. There is the possibility that this announcement could be the first of a range of new powers coming to Cornwall, with transport the next under discussion – but crucially no mention of what exactly this may entail. The link to the Independent’s report can be found here:
There is no doubt that this has the potential to be great news, with the territory of Cornwall beginning to take control of services in order to provide what the Cornish need, rather than what those ‘up-country’ think is best. However, as with all these things, there appears to be a major caveat attached – and that came in a quote given by Cornwall Council Leader John Pollard to the Independent. Pollard stated: “For some weeks and months, we have been preparing a ‘Case For Cornwall’ which are the things we think Cornwall could benefit from having. We have been discussing those with officials and civil servants…”
As was previously debated on this blog in December, Pollard’s ‘Case For Cornwall’ document which calls for Cornwall Council to win more powers, is a majorly flawed report and one which suffers from a lack of ambition. However, for me there are too many things missing in these demands. Although ‘The Independent’ mentions some form of devolution of transport to Cornwall (but doesn’t go into any detail at all of what this could mean), Pollard’s draft document did not mention any form of transport control. 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?
Due to this, it is perhaps no surprise at all to read renowned Cornish academic Bernard Deacon’s own blog post this weekend where he cites the Cornish people’s lack of support for, and indeed total lack of engagement with Pollard’s piece of work, and the Council’s ‘Stand Up For Cornwall’ campaign publicising their document. (See below for link to Deacon’s piece)https://cornwalldevelopersparadise.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/stand-up-for-cornwall-a-spectacular-flop/
In my view there is a real danger here – Cornwall Council, and indeed wider government may use the excuse of the lack of engagement with Cornwall Council’s devolution plans to simply say that the Cornish had a chance of devolution, but the low level of support for the Council’s plans show it is simply not viable. The facts are, Cornwall dearly wants (and really needs) devolution, but not in the form of Cornwall Council winning the powers. Cornwall Council cannot run the services they already provide efficiently. A Cornish Assembly is the only answer, with superior powers to a council. The Assembly needs to have clear links to the parish councils and also to the major areas of population.
A new, and coherent devolution campaign needs to be set up as soon as possible – Mebyon Kernow should take a lead, but also prominent Cornish academics and personalities. The Council and Government must be aware that Cornwall wants devolution, but not in the shape of more powers to Cornwall Council. The time has come to stand up and fight for what Cornwall wants and needs.