Friday, 15 June 2012

Cornwall Council doesn't seem to get localism

It seems that Cornwall Council is failing to get the localism spirit, despite the massive changes brought about by the Localism Act. Many changes are being delayed by lack of staff.

The Localism Act gives huge new powers to town and parish councils to take on more responsibility, to run local services better and to save assets of community value. But many of these rights can only be exercised by working with Cornwall Council and the authority seems to be delaying passing on the powers and imposing huge bureaucracy even when they do.

One example is the community right to challenge. This allows town and parish councils, local community groups and groups of staff to seek to take over local services where they think they can do a better job. But Cornwall Council is claiming it doesn't have enough staff to deal with the new power and so it is seeking to restrict the right to make a challenge to just a single month each year. It seems town and parish councils will only be allowed to exercise their rights in March of any year.

The Localism Act also gives new powers to Cornwall Council such as the power to better enforce planning breaches. But Cornwall's response has been to get rid of 35 officers from planning and regeneration service - the very people who are on the front line enforcing the rules.

Yesterday there was meant to be a scrutiny committee debate on the way Cornwall Council is implementing the act. But Julian German, the cabinet member in charge of localism, failed to attend this long-standing meeting so we will have to wait even longer to find out. In the meantime, opportunities for service improvements may be missed.

The officers who were there talked about 'marshalling resources' rather than adding any new staff to the localism team. This attitude was condemned by members from across the political spectrum. It seems that Cornwall Council's ruling Conservative-led administration has failed once again to understand the importance of promoting local service delivery. Liberal Democrats will continue to argue the case for more local decision making powers and more devolution of services.

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