Cornish devolution: Opponents call for referendum on directly elected mayor
Richard Whitehouse, local democracy reporter
Campaigners opposing a directly elected mayor for Cornwall are calling for a referendum to decide whether the plan for one should go ahead.
Cornwall Council is currently in negotiations with the Government after being invited to secure a deal which would see further devolution to Cornwall. But documents suggest that in order to get the highest level of devolution will require a directly elected mayor role.
However, opponents have warned that the role could cost £1million a year. They have highlighted last week’s vote in Bristol which saw the city scrap its mayor due to concerns about the role’s effectiveness.
Independent Cornwall councillor Tim Dwelly, who is part of the cross-party Let Cornwall Decide group which has launched a petition for a referendum on whether Cornwall should have a mayor, said that the situation in Bristol could affect what happens in Cornwall.
“The result in Bristol, where they rejected having a mayor by 59%, will have sent shockwaves for those who want a Mayor for Cornwall,” he said.
“In Bristol they have voted to no longer have a Mayor after having one for 10 years. There it has cost £1m in one year and hasn’t been well received.
“We have not yet been told how much a Mayor for Cornwall could cost, but based on what happened in Bristol it could well be £1m a year. Many people in Cornwall, no matter what their politics, don’t believe we need that cost.”
Cllr Dwelly said that there had been some opposition to a referendum on the mayor issue with some claiming that it could cost up to £1m to hold the ballot. But he said: “Even if the referendum did cost £1m it would be better to spend that than to waste up to £1m a year on a mayor for Cornwall that the public doesn’t want or need.
“There is nothing stopping the Government giving Cornwall the powers it wants with the system that we currently have. There doesn’t seem to be any benefit at all in creating another layer of governance.”
Following the referendum result in Bristol councillors there of all political parties welcomed the chance for more councillors to have a say on decisions for the city.
Conservative councillor Mark Weston told Bristol Live: “The mayoral model has proven a disaster for Bristol – too much power at the whim of one individual. The public have rejected this unaccountable model of government. We now need all parties to work together to bring in a more conciliatory form of politics to Bristol.”
Cornwall Council leader Linda Taylor said this week that it was “premature” to be talking about whether Cornwall would have a directly elected mayor or not.
At a Cabinet meeting last week she said: “We are continuing talks with every department in Westminster to ensure we secure the best possible County Deal we possibly can for the residents of Cornwall.
“I understand the question of a directly elected leader is not a simple one but talk of this is premature and at this time the Government is yet to confirm what additional powers and investment that a change in governance would provide for Cornwall in a County Deal.
“I say directly elected leader as one of the many welcome announcements in the Queen’s speech in the levelling up and regeneration bill was to allow Cornwall and other County Deal areas to choose an alternative title for a directly elected mayor.
“We will be hosting opportunities for wider public engagement over the coming months in advance of a formal decision being taken later this year. Whatever decision we make will be taken with the best interests of the residents of Cornwall in mind.”
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