Sunday, 14 September 2014

Devolution discussion on Sunday Politics - UPDATED

I was on the Sunday Politics South West this morning talking about the prospects of devolution to Cornwall. The debate was sparked by the independence referendum in Scotland. Whether it is yes or no, there will be fundamental changes in the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK and many believe it is right that we should examine what is best for each constituent region and nation. So what will it mean for Cornwall?

The Liberal Democrats have announced that we will be fighting the next general election on a pledge to devolve powers from Westminster including the establishment of a Cornish Assembly. We believe in devolution on demand and recognise that what is right for one area may not be right for another. Just as when the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly were set up they had different powers, so we believe that what is right for Cornwall may not be right for Yorkshire or Dorset (or Wales or Scotland). Cornwall should not be held back by a 'one size fits all' policy.

The discussion about exactly what powers a Cornish Assembly should have and what should fit around it is still to be had. My belief is that the current Cornwall Council should take on more powers and become the assembly. I don't see the need for the creation of a new tier of councils below the assembly. More powers and responsibilities could be given to beefed up town and parish councils to fulfil the role.

So what do the other parties think?

The Conservatives do not seem to support any further systematic devolution to Cornwall. On the programme today, local MP and Minister George Eustice said that the reason so many powers (like the frequency of bin collections) are kept in the hands of Eric Pickles and other ministers was that local people have the right to expect a certain level of service. In other words, that local councils cannot be trusted to do the best for their residents and that a minister in London can.

Labour's shadow local government secretary Hilary Benn wrote to Cornwall Council recently offering further powers but making clear that these will only be given to authorities that join together. So we could only expect more power for a South West region (or maybe Devonwall).

UPDATE: Labour's Candy Atherton has told the Western Morning News:
"We are the first political party to say we don’t believe in Assembly"

So of the three parties with any hope of winning seats in Cornwall at the general election next May, only the Liberal Democrats are pledging to introduce proper devolution and a Cornish Assembly. More votes for the Lib Dems and more Lib Dem MPs will give a stronger hand to our negotiations with other parties in the event of a hung parliament to make our vision happen. Neither Labour nor Conservatives governing on their own will give Cornwall the freedom to make decisions for itself.


Nicky Rowe said...

The Liberal Democrats are in government in Cornwall now, and in government in Westminster now. So why are you promising to introduce a Cornish Assembly after the election, instead of just doing it now? It just looks like yet another cynical grab for votes.

Alex Folkes said...

Hi Nicky
Any coalition requires agreement that is negotiated between the different parties. At the time of the coalition being formed, the Lib Dems and Tories agreed a programme and that (right or wrong) is what they have done. Sadly, devolution including more powers for Cornwall wasn't part of the original agreement and the Lib Dems could not get the Tories to agree to more constitutional reform.

Each party will go into the next election with a manifesto and argue for what they want to do. I think the greatest change brought by the coalition is that no one will automatically assume that a single party will win and be able to implement everything that they want. But the Lib Dems will be arguing for devolution to be a key part of any agreement that they are part of.