Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Cornwall does need to be “brave and bold” …

My article in last week’s Cornish Guardian addressed the two-year anniversary of the so-called Cornwall Devolution Deal and the “state of Cornwall” address by the leader of Cornwall Council. It was as follows:

In recent days, there has been quite a focus on the two-year anniversary of the “Cornwall devolution deal,” with senior elected members on the unitary authority and council officers talking up the “historic” nature of the arrangement.

It would be churlish not to admit that the “deal” contains many elements of merit, such as the achievement of Intermediate Body status which allows Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly some greater local control over the allocation of EU funding to projects.

But overall, it does not include the shift of meaningful political power to elected politicians in Cornwall.

For example, in this past week, I was twice at meetings which covered the heritage aspects of the “deal.” Part of this related to a “study of the cultural distinctiveness of Cornwall's historic environment.” Obviously, I welcome this, but the “deal” included no powers over heritage policy or the management of state-owned historic assets in Cornwall.

From my perspective, what was agreed two years ago was not devolution as understood in other nations such as Scotland and Wales. It was an accommodation between the UK Government and local government here in Cornwall on a range of specific issues, but which still left central government in the driving seat.

And while this “devolution” debate has been ongoing, central government has offloaded certain local functions to unelected bodies such as the Local Enterprise Partnership, which is hardly an advert for democratic reform.

In his “state of Cornwall” address to the unitary authority at last week’s Full Council meeting, council leader Adam Paynter spoke about Cornwall being “brave and bold” and pushing for “more powers” and “greater autonomy from the Government.”

Adam also called for politicians to “work together” and “put the future of Cornwall first.” But having spoken about the primacy of Cornwall, he went on to undermine that by arguing that we should submerge ourselves into some kind of “strong south west offer” when dealing with the centre.

Recent history shows that whenever Cornwall is incorporated into a south west block, it inevitably loses out to Exeter, Taunton or Bristol.

I do agree with Adam Paynter when he says that we need to be “brave and bold,” but surely that means always standing up for Cornwall as a distinct unit in all things. And it means not allowing Cornwall to be seen merely as the western tenth of a synthetic south west region.

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