Wednesday, 17 November 2010

A consistent approach to Cornwall?

In my latest column in the Cornish Guardian, I addressed the approach of the London parties to Cornwall and its integrity as a unit. It was as follows:

The decision by central government to give the green light to the creation of a Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has, according to Cornwall Council, “been greeted with delight” by amongst others “representatives of the local business community.”

But last week, the proposed LEP, which would work to promote enterprise and regeneration across the area, was lambasted by Exeter’s Labour MP Ben Bradshaw.

Mr Bradshaw, who wanted a larger “multi-county”” partnership, told the House of Commons that Cornwall “as is so often the case, wanted to go it alone - a move unfortunately endorsed by the Government for political purposes.” He claimed this was much to “the consternation of the Cornwall business community and business leaders in the rest of the peninsula.”

Strange that. The bid for the LEP was actually supported by a wide range of local business figures including the Chairmen of Cornwall’s Federation of Small Businesses, the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Cornwall Business Partnership and the Cornwall Voluntary Sector Forum, as well as the Managing Directors of firms such as Ginsters and St Austell Brewery.

Eden’s Tim Smit meanwhile describes the LEP as a “once in a lifetime opportunity for Cornwall to take control of its own destiny and to make a huge statement about its ability to shape its own future.”

I am in total agreement with this view. For too long, Cornwall lost out to “Devon and Cornwall” or “South-West” arrangements, where the main benefits were felt to the east of the Tamar.

Indeed, in the 1990s it was only because Cornwall and Devon were disaggregated, and Cornwall was treated as a region in its own right, that we were able to harness much-needed investment through the European structural funds of Objective One and its successor programmes.

I am genuinely heartened that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition wish to respect the territoriality of Cornwall and treat it, in their words, as a “functional economic unit.”

But, at the same, I find it unbelievable that they are also pushing through a reform of parliamentary boundaries which will undermine Cornwall’s political integrity by creating at least one cross-Tamar constituency. How contradictory is that?

I also welcome the Labour Party’s continued opposition to the creation of Devonwall seats but, at the same time, I cannot understand the desire of Labour MPs to undermine the planned Local Enterprise Partnership and damage Cornwall’s economic prospects.

Isn’t it about time that the main parties treated Cornwall and local concerns in a consistent manner and not just as a political football?

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