Wednesday, 21 January 2015

We can't just say it, we have to show it - building the case for Cornwall

Yesterday, Cornwall Council discussed the campaign to win more devolution known as the Case for Cornwall.

The debate was a good one - possibly the best I have been involved in during my five-plus years on the authority. There are those who want to see only limited further devolution - principally on the Tory benches - and those who want to see much more - mainly Liberal Democrats and MK.

This is what I said during the debate:

We are at our best when we are bravest.

Standing up for our principles at all times. For what Cornwall needs and wants even though it may not be popular.

We are weak when we allow ourselves to be bullied - whether it be by Pickles, Cameron, Clegg, Miliband, Farage, Bennet or anyone else.

And we are at our weakest when we put safety first and act on the basis of what others think we ought to do, not to think of what is best for Cornwall.

Over the past few months this council has been brave and taken the lead on many things - but three stand out:
  • our decision to defy convention and the actions of most other councils by planning a four year budget to cope with the cuts that are forced upon us;
  • our decision to seek to work much more closely with others - not just the health service, but the wider public sector and the voluntary and community sector too;
  • our decision to start preparing this case for Cornwall, far in advance of the moves being signaled by many of the Westminster parties.
Cornwall needs and deserves much greater say over its own services and its own future. What we need may not be the same as other parts of the UK. What is right for Cornwall may not be the same as what is right for Dorset, Yorkshire, London, Wales or Scotland.

This can only be achieved by further integration of the public sector and closer working with other sectors too. But we also need greater devolution from central government if this is to work.

I asked the people of my area what they thought about greater devolution and which services they felt could be devolved. There was no single view, but a large number of mentions for housing, health, transport, planning and local taxation issues.

And that highlights the concern that I have with the proposals of the administration. I do not believe that there is yet an agreement among the people of Cornwall as to what the outcome should be. If we propose a single outcome at this time then we risk making the best the enemy of the good.

What is missing is the input of the wider Cornwall. It runs the risk of being not a Case for Cornwall, but a case for Cornwall Council.

Where are the voices of the farmers, the fishermen, the tourist industry, our manufacturing businesses, our shops and small businesses, our health service, schools, colleges and civic society?

If we cannot demonstrate to ministers and civil servants from day one that we are representing the views of the whole of Cornwall - not just its political masters - then we run the risk of being rejected from the start. I have listened to the Leader’s opening and thank him for his commitment to continue this debate,  but fear that we are playing catch up.

I believe there is a settled will in Cornwall for greater powers and devolution. But we cannot simply say it. We must show it.

I support this proposal and hope that it will receive overwhelming backing from members today. But we cannot rely on merely a good argument. We need to build an incontrovertible case. By building such a case we will be able to test the government - of whatever hue it takes after the election. Are they serious and genuine - in which case they will grant Cornwall its wishes. Or was this a fix from the start - in which case we will be disappointed once again.

I very much hope that all parties are genuine in what they say - but we need to make our case as strong as possible to hold them to their words.

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