Sunday, 1 June 2008

Comments of Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg was in Cornwall a few days ago and a few local newspapers printed his views on a number of issues. Here is my letter in response to his statements about the proposed unitary council. You may have heard these views from me before.

I was very disappointed with the response of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg to readers’ questions in the Cornish Guardian, Cornishman and West Briton newspapers. It was particularly galling to hear him to trot out the falsehood that a unitary authority will lead to greater powers for Cornwall.

I would like to remind Mr Clegg of a few points.

1. In November 2001, Liberal Democrats held a Cornwall Conference which agreed to campaign for a Regional Assembly for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

2. The Lib Dems contested the 2005 General Election and Cornwall County Council elections with a Cornish Manifesto which included a commitment to a Cornish Assembly.

3. Upon winning control of Cornwall County Council that year, they published a list of priorities that included a pledge to “establish detailed plans for a Cornish Assembly” within their first year of office. The Lib Dems did not take this pledge forward.

4. At another conference of Cornish Liberal Democrats in November 2005, they re-affirmed their commitment to the campaign for a Cornish Assembly. The motion specifically stated that “devolution to a Cornish tier of strategic regional government” was needed in advance of any reform to local government structures. In their press material to publicise the event, Andrew George MP said: “… the Government will not get away with their belief that they can fob us off with a rearrangement of deckchairs on the Titanic of local government.”

5. However in October 2006, when Ruth Kelly launched a Local Government White Paper, which included measures to allow “a small number of councils to seek unitary status,” the Liberal Democrat County Council immediately jettisoned their commitment to a Cornish Assembly and began to prepare a bid for a single council.

6. In spite of the Liberal Democrat resolution from November 2005 and earlier commitments to a Cornish Assembly, Lib Dem MPs suddenly starting making claims that this was a “golden opportunity” to “get some powers back to Cornwall.”

7. They even carried on making the claim that local government reorganisation would lead to devolution after a senior director at the Department for Communities and Local Government visited Cornwall and confirmed that a unitary authority would not be able to draw down greater powers from regional and central government.

8. The Liberal Democrats on Cornwall County Council continued with their bid for unitary status even when it was apparent that 80% of local people were opposed to the move as shown by the postal polls carried out by four district councils.

9. In February this year, the majority of Liberal Democrat MPs refused to use their position in parliament to oppose the Order to set up the unitary authority. And this was even after the Local Government Minister John Healey MP confirmed that “no specific additional powers” would be devolved to Cornwall.

I believe it is about time that Cornwall’s Liberal Democrats came clean and admitted that there is no evidence that their proposals for a unitary authority will lead to Cornish devolution. They have let Cornwall down by abandoning their commitment to a Cornish Assembly.

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