Monday, 1 June 2015

Tory Devolution Bill will ignore Cornwall

It looks like one of the first measures to be proposed by the new Conservative government will spell the end of Cornwall's push for greater freedoms and powers. The Devolution Bill requires new combined authorities with a directly elected mayor before limited powers will be granted.

The new bill is centred around a wish to create city regions based on the model being promoted in Manchester. There, the city council is joining with neighbouring authorities under the title of 'Northern Powerhouse'. They will have an elected mayor and will take on some additional housing, planning, transport and policing powers.

We are told that other councils can look to the same level of devolution, and this will include rural and 'county' councils. But they will have to form what are known as combined authorities. This does not appear to mean full-on integration in the mould of the unitary process. But it does mean some pooling of sovereignty.

So would Cornwall already qualify having seen six districts and one county council combine just six years ago? The bill (and government) are unclear at this time. But if not then it seems Cornwall's only hope of more powers would be in partnership with Plymouth and Devon councils.

And even then there would need to be a directly elected mayor to exercise power. Such a post is, I think, an anathema to most people in a rural area. How can one person know enough about every part of Cornwall (let alone Devon and Cornwall) to be able to take sensible decisions? A pool of decision-makers (ok, a committee) is far more transparent and democratic and allows different viewpoints and arguments to play out and be heard.

And what of the powers which may be transferred? The policing stuff is already devolved from government to Police and Crime commissioners. These have been so wildly unsuccessful that it appears the government is (at least in part) proposing to dismantle the system. More powers over housing, transport and planning would be welcome, but they are not spelled out.

What does seem clear is that despite the posturing in the run up to May 7th, there is no Conservative appetite for the specific requests that have been made to the government in the Case for Cornwall discussions which have taken place to date. It will be a challenge for the council to demonstrate that this project is not dead in the water and for Cornwall's new MPs to demonstrate that they meant what they said in their election campaigns.

No comments: