Monday, 27 August 2007

More on unitary status for Cornwall

It is now over a month since the government gave the go-ahead to Cornwall County Council’s awful bid for unitary status. So what is happening?

There is plenty of worry from employees about their jobs and being able to continue providing quality public services, as well as concern from communities and individuals about what is happening to their local democracy.

We have had many rumours emerging from County Hall. We have heard about their ‘mobilisation phase,’ their ‘ninety day plan,’ their withdrawn ‘ninety day plan,’ various transitional arrangements and the involvement of extremely expensive consultants.

The Department of Communities and Local Government has now launched a consultation on what happens next. It strangely says that “if and when the Local Government and Public Involvement Bill is enacted the Secretary of State will take the final decisions on which unitary proposals are to be implemented,” though I have little hope that the Government will see sense and reverse its decision on the unitary proposal in Cornwall.

The consultation states that it wishes Cornwall County Council to become a ‘transitional authority’ that will then evolve over the following months into the new unitary council by April 2009.

It states that its preferred option is for existing councillors on the County Council to retire one year early in May 2008 when elections for the new / transitional body should be held. But this would mean that the elections would be held on the present electoral boundaries and there is no guidance as to whether there will even be 82 councillors or double that number as latterly suggested by the County Council and MPs. It does however offer the option that the elections could be pushed back and not take place until May 2009, which means that a review of the electoral arrangements might or might not get carried out.

All in all, with the Parliament in recess until the 8th of October and the Local Government and Public Involvement Bill only then getting to the report stage in Lords, it could be some time before the bill is even enacted.

To me, the whole ‘debate’ about unitary government in Cornwall has been farcical from day one and sadly that farce is set continue.

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