Wednesday, 4 February 2015

So much for democracy in Coalition Britain

My article in today’s Cornish Guardian looks back at the recent “County Hall” debate on the “Case for Cornwall.” It is as follows:

On Tuesday 20th January, the leadership of the unitary authority put forward a document, titled the “Case for Cornwall,” to a meeting of all elected councillors.

We were told that, following the Scottish independence referendum and the heightening of discussions about devolution for all parts of the UK, it was important for Cornwall to set out “ambitious” demands for more powers.

But I was greatly disappointed, because the “Case for Cornwall” is not actually that ambitious at all. It did not make the case for a far-reaching new democratic settlement for our area, as was delivered in Wales and Scotland in the late 1990s. It simply sought a few limited extra powers for our one principal local authority.

The document did not even seek to combat the influence of the growing number of unelected groups and boards, which are taking political and economic power away from those who have been elected democratically.

And to look at the example of planning, the document sought some additional controls over renewable energy developments and an “infrastructure planning and delivery mechanism” – which I interpreted as yet another unaccountable “board.”

I told the meeting that we needed to bold and that we should be going much, much further. Surely we should be making the case for all decisions relating to planning to be made in Cornwall, which would include the right to produce our own Cornish National Planning Policy Framework and the right to set our own housing targets – without interference from central government – and to ensure that the planning appeal process is also Cornwall-based.

I did move an amendment that the document be strengthened and the option of a Cornish Assembly be included, but this was not supported at the meeting.

Soon after this vote took place, the Prime Minister was in Cornwall promoting an additional allocation of funds to Cornwall’s “growth deal” – though critics said most of the money had already been announced.

David Cameron had a lot to say about “giving local communities the power and the money,” and described the funding announcement as being about “genuine devolution.”

But the reality is that responsibility for the “Growth Deal” will fall to the unelected and unaccountable Local Enterprise Partnership. And it was also around this time that the Coalition announced it had done a U-turn, and was centralising administrative control over the next programme of EU funding away from Cornwall.

So much for democratic devolution in what presently passes for Coalition Britain.

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