Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Questions on the unitary decision

I have written to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to express concern at the undemocratic way in which the County Council’s proposal for a single unitary authority was given the go-ahead.

The decision letter to the Chief Executive of Cornwall County Council stated "the Secretary of State considers that ... the proposal would command a broad cross-section of support from a range of stakeholders, both public and private sector, as well as some support from the general public. She notes that whilst certain districts carried out polling which came down heavily against the unitary proposal, the climate in which the polls took place suggests that the results need to be viewed with caution."

I have requested to be informed how, in spite of such overwhelming opposition, the Secretary of State was able to come to the conclusion that there was a 'broad cross-section of support' for the proposal in Cornwall. At the same time I have asked to be provided with full lists of those organisations and individuals who supported the unitary bid and those who opposed it.

I have also raised concerns about the County Council’s ‘supplementary submission’ to DCLG which contained considerable misinformation and have asked how the Secretary of State assessed this documentation and what weight she gave to it.

The response will be posted as soon as I receive it.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Another blow to Cornish democracy

It is a sad day for democracy with the announcement that the Department for Communities and Local Government intends to impose unitary local government on the people of Cornwall.

One of the criteria by which the DCLG claimed it would assess the various bids for unitary status was a 'broad cross-section of support.' So how could they allow the County Council's bid to proceed, when it was opposed by all six district councils, a majority of town and parish councils, over 80% of local people in a series of district polls and a large number of community and political groups?

I simply cannot comprehend how the views of all these people and organisations can have so easily been disregarded in favour of a bid founded on spin and misrepresentation that even Peter Mandelson would be ashamed to promote.

I find it is particularly galling that the Liberal Democrat county councillors and MPs , who have failed to honour their manifesto commitment to fight for a Cornish Assembly, had the gall to co-opt the language of devolution to justify their local government reforms. They have made claim after claim that by shrinking democracy in Cornwall, we will somehow be allowed extra powers. Such claims are nonsense and do a disservice to the whole political process.

Unlike the Liberal Democrats, MK will continue to campaign for the meaningful devolution of political power to a Cornish Assembly.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Fair funding for MK?

Public funding of political parties is a topical issue with the ‘cash for honours’ scandal, but many people will be unaware that a Review has already reported on the issue of political funding.

The Hayden Phillips Review has recommended that donations from individuals should be capped at £50,000 but, to compensate for this, there should be greater funding allocated to political parties from the public purse. The Review recommends that parties should receive 50p a year for each vote cast for them in the most recent General Election, as well as 25p for every vote in elections to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and the European Parliament.

However, only eligible parties will qualify for taxpayers’ money. To be eligible, parties must have two seats at Westminster or the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly or European Parliament and therefore Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall and other small political parties will be excluded from the arrangement.

This proposal is manifestly unfair. Why should parties such as the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Greens all receive 50p per General Election vote – but not MK?

It will be a disgrace if the main parties and then parliament accept the report’s recommendations, which will further institutionalise inequality in Britain’s democratic system. The larger political parties already receive public funding through such mechanisms as policy development grants and in-kind support through free media time for political broadcasts – another part of the political process from which MK is excluded.

I have made representations to Hayden Phillips and the representatives of the three main political parties who are already involved in inter-party talks on this matter and I will keep and one and all posted on developments.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Good riddance to SW Assembly

Mebyon Kernow has welcomed the Government announcement that unelected regional assemblies are to be abolished by 2010. But this good news has been well and truly damaged with the Government’s insistence that the Assembly's ‘responsibilities’ will be passed over to the Regional Development Agency.

What is the point in doing away with one unelected and unaccountable quango, only for another unelected and equally unaccountable quango to take over its role! Where is the democracy in this?

If Gordon Brown is serious about putting trust back into the political system, he needs to devolve decision-making on things such as housing, economic development, planning and the environment to democratically elected politicians that are truly accountable to their local areas. In Cornwall’s case, that means working with local people to create a Cornish Assembly and Cornish Development Agency.”

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Spin, spin and yet more Lib Dem spin

Having just read Cornwall County Council’s ‘supplementary submission’ to the Department of Communities and Local Government in support of their bid for a single unitary authority, I have to say I am very disturbed by their blatant use of misinformation and spin to fabricate a ‘broad cross section of support’ for their proposal.

Misleading document

The County Council document states that it sought the views of the public through a MORI poll, focus groups and the distribution of information leaflets. But it fails to inform central government that the MORI poll was carried out in advance of the details for their bid being worked up and that 91% of those surveyed stated that "they would like more information on any proposal before making up their mind."

The document also fails to include the full facts about the County Council’s disastrous leaflet consultation which did not even reach most homes and were returned by only 665 households. Interestingly, their incredibly biased leaflet still generated more opposition to the County Council’s proposal than support for it.

Rather than acknowledge the widespread opposition to their proposal, their ‘supplementary submission’ prefers to note “the feedback we have received suggests that many people have not fully understood our proposals.”

Considerable space in the document is used to rubbish the polls by four of the district councils and the sample survey carried out by North Cornwall District Council, which shows over 80% of respondents are opposed to the unitary bid. The County Council criticises the content of the material distributed by the district councils, though it was much less biased than their own material and they even had the nerve to “call into question the validity of the result.”

Factually inaccurate

The County Council claims that Restormel Borough Council did not vote to oppose the bid. That is completely incorrect and the Borough Council remains opposed to the ‘One Cornwall’ bid. They also claim that “many of the larger town and parish council have reacted positively” but the reality is that the majority of town and parish councils oppose the bid.

The Council’s ‘supplementary submission’ is shameful propaganda and I believe that the County Council has no option other than to withdraw it immediately and apologise to the people of Cornwall.

A momentous week in Wales

It is to be welcomed that Plaid Cymru has entered coalition government in the Welsh Assembly with Labour with Ieuan Wyn Jones as Deputy First Minister.

This arrangement, which brings together the two largest political parties in Wales, will firstly mean stable government. But the agreement between the parties also commits Labour to a referendum on law-making powers for the Assembly within this next four-tear term, which it has pledged to campaign for a "successful outcome."

Well done Ieuan. Well done Plaid.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Liberal Democrats are misleading Cornwall

Cornwall needs its politicians and community representatives to show vision and leadership to win greater self-government for Cornwall. But we have been failed by the political lightweights who lead the London-biased political parties in Cornwall. This is especially so with the Liberal Democrats who have reneged on their election pledge to fight for a Cornish Assembly.

We must never forget that in 2005, Liberal Democrat candidates for election to Westminster and Cornwall County Council stood, successfully, on a local manifesto which included a commitment to a Cornish Assembly. They had a wonderful opportunity to unite Cornwall, to bring local people and their democratic representatives together in a real crusade to build a democracy for Cornwall that would truly be fit for the 21st century. But they chose to do nothing and have squandered our hopes.

And then on 23rd January, 41 members of Cornwall County Council – exactly half of the Council’s membership - voted to submit a bid to central government for Cornwall to be governed by a single unitary authority. Thirty-six of these councillors were Liberal Democrats, supported by three independents and two Labour representatives. Only five of the Liberal Democrats voted against the proposal.

The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) consultation ended on 22nd June - the Government’s decision on whether the bid will proceed will be known in late July.

As a result, over the last few months, the people of Cornwall have had to put up with an inordinate amount of spin, half-truths and misinformation spilling forth from County Hall. We have had to watch as they spend thousands and thousands of pounds publicising their flawed plans for democratic reform.

In it they have continued to claim that they would ‘give local communities more say,’ even though decision-making would be centralised to Truro and democracy would be weakened – not enhanced. They also said that it would ‘create a stronger voice for Cornwall,’ even though the government has already made it clear that no extras powers would be devolved to unitary authorities.

What is more, the Liberal Democrats fronting the push for unitary status know that they are misleading local people on this issue. I attended a recent meeting at County Hall, where we were addressed by Mr David Prout, the Director of Local Democracy at the DCLG. When I pressed him on the issue of greater powers, he confirmed that a unitary authority would not be able to draw down powers from regional and central government. He actually said that a “unitary authority will be a unitary authority” and that there were “no goodies” on offer.

Continuing Liberal Democrat assertions that by shrinking democracy in Cornwall, we will somehow be allowed extra powers are frankly nonsense and do a disservice to the whole political process.

We need devolution to Cornwall – not local government reform

The creation of a unitary authority for Cornwall would be just that - a single unitary authority at the expense of the districts and local democracy. One thing it would not be is a Cornish Assembly.

At the present time, the two principal tiers of local government in Cornwall exist beneath the unelected and unaccountable Regional Assembly, the Regional Development Agency and a whole host of SW-based quangos, over which we have no democratic control.

Under proposals for local government reform, this would stay the same. If a Cornish unitary authority was created, important decisions about Cornwall and its future would still be taken outside of Cornwall; the development of planning policies and the decision about the amount of housing to be built within Cornwall would still be agreed by the SW Assembly; the administration of convergence funding for Cornish communities would still be controlled by the Regional Development Agency in Exeter; and the RDA would still have the powers, for example, to compulsorily purchase South Crofty tin mine and surrounding area without recourse to the democratic process.

What is more; a restructuring of local government in Cornwall at this time would be a major and costly upheaval, which would have no real demonstrable benefit. In fact, it could merit a considerable dis-benefit to Cornwall as it might block any pressure for the meaningful devolution of regional powers and we would still only have a local council in Truro.

No to a single unitary authority

On Thursday 26th October 2006, Ruth Kelly launched the latest Local Government White Paper. Among the proposals was the announcement of a “short window of opportunity for a small number of councils to seek unitary status.”

The Liberal Democrat leadership of Cornwall County Council immediately announced that it would be putting together a bid to become a unitary authority though this had not been debated by the full Council.

It should be remembered that these Liberal Democrats were elected in 2005 on a local manifesto which included a commitment to a Cornish Assembly. Upon winning control of the Council, they published a list of priorities that included a pledge to “establish detailed plans for a Cornish Assembly” within their first year of office. Somewhat predictably, they have failed to do this. And while they actively promote a single council for Cornwall, they are doing nothing to campaign for a Cornish Assembly.

Over-egging the content of the White Paper to a ridiculous extent, the leader of Cornwall County Council David Whalley described it as a “once in a lifetime opportunity to design an improved structure for public services in Cornwall.” He also had the brass neck to tell the people of Cornwall to “have the vision and the courage to come up with 21st century solutions …” It is a shame he does not have the vision and courage to fight for his own Party’s commitment to a Cornish Assembly.

There has also been a lot of disinformation or wishful thinking coming out of the Liberal Democrats. Andrew George MP has made the claim that the White Paper is a “golden opportunity” to create a body to “draw down decision-making power from Government quangos, boards, agencies and other unelected departmental bodies.” Matthew Taylor MP meanwhile claimed that local government reforms would “get some powers back to Cornwall from the South West Region and central government.” Their claims do not stand up to scrutiny while Colin Breed’s assertion that a unitary authority would be “akin to a Cornish Assembly” is palpable nonsense.

The reality is that the so-called devolutionary measures contained in the White Paper are very limited indeed and there is no evidence that meaningful political powers would be decentralised to a Cornish unitary authority.

Welcome to my blog

Mebyon Kernow is presently working on an improved presence on the internet and we will soon be launching a new and improved website to publicise MK activities and our policies.

As a first step, I am very pleased to be launching this blog as Party Leader. I hope you will enjoy the read and it is my intention to post news and views on at least a weekly basis.

About me

My name is Dick Cole and I have been the leader of Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall since 1997.

I joined MK in 1988 and was elected Press and Campaigns Officer four years later. Since then I have been involved in many campaigns for a better deal for Cornwall, which include fighting for fair funding for our public services such as hospitals and schools, protecting the environment and winning local institutions to serve local people.

I have played a leading role in the campaign for greater self-government for Cornwall. I produced the ‘Declaration for a Cornish Assembly’ which was signed by over 50,000 people and, in recent months, I have been heavily involved in the fight against a single unitary authority.

Since 1999, I have also served my local community of St Enoder on Restormel Borough Council and the local Parish Council. In my time on the Borough Council, I have focussed on affordable housing, planning and economic regeneration, particularly in the China Clay Area. I chair Policy and Scrutiny 4 (planning policy committee) which is working to develop more ambitious targets for affordable housing and I also sit on the taskforce set up following the announcement of the forthcoming job cuts at Imerys.

As a local councillor, I am actively involved with a large number of organisations within my ward. I am extremely proud that I have personally been able to raise over £185,000 through grant applications for a range of projects, including a new bandroom for Indian Queens Band.

Brought up just outside Indian Queens, I now live in Fraddon with his wife Ann. I worked in agriculture during the 1980s before going to university in Wales. I work as an archaeologist for the Historic Environment Service of Cornwall County Council.

Friday, 13 July 2007

About Mebyon Kernow

Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall is a modern and progressive political party. It is a party of principle, campaigning for a better deal for Cornwall and a fairer, more equitable World.

We exist to fight for ALL the people of Cornwall, with a political programme that puts Cornwall first and offers an alternative to the London-centred parties.

It is our belief that the historic nation of Cornwall, with its own distinct identity, language and heritage, has the same right to self-determination as Scotland and Wales. We should have more say in how our lives are run and Mebyon Kernow is leading the campaign for the self-government of Cornwall, through the establishment of a legislative Assembly.

We will play our part in building a confident and outward-looking Cornwall, that has the power to take decisions for itself. To achieve this, our detailed policies are founded on the core values of prosperity for all, social justice and environmental protection.


• Mebyon Kernow is committed to a society based on real equality of opportunity, helping people to achieve their full potential in life. We want Cornwall and its communities to be successful, with all residents sharing equally in that success through thriving businesses, worthwhile and secure employment, decent wages, access to genuinely affordable housing and good quality public services.


• The Party for Cornwall is committed to a just and fair society. We believe that effective public intervention is needed to combat poverty, tackle social deprivation and fight for the disadvantaged. We will strive to build strong inclusive communities with free and equal access to well-funded education, healthcare and welfare services, run for the benefit of everyone.


• Safeguarding the environment is central to Mebyon Kernow’s policies. The World faces severe environmental crises, which require radical action on a worldwide basis to promote real sustainability. Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall will not shirk from difficult decisions to protect and enhance the environment for future generations.

Mebyon Kernow is international in outlook. Our vision for Cornwall and the World is underpinned by respect for the diversity of the planet, both its human cultural traditions and its natural environment. We believe that nations and regions must work together to promote greater understanding, foster peace and help reduce global inequality, so that all peoples, families and individuals can live their lives free from conflict, poverty, exploitation and environmental degradation.