Saturday, 14 July 2007

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.

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