Meryon Kernow? Cornish devolution wrangle over whether Celtic nation should have a Mayor
Richard Whitehouse, Local Democracy Reporter
A group of councillors has launched a bid to block plans for a devolved Cornwall to have a directly elected Mayor saying it would give “one person excessive control”.
Cornwall Council is bidding to secure an agreement with the Government under its devolution plans which would require a directly elected leader for Cornwall.
However, a group of councillors from the Independent and Liberal Democrat groups at County Hall have submitted a motion calling for the full council to support devolution without a Mayor.
There is concern however that the motion could lead to a lower level of devolution for Cornwall, including no ability to get to grips with the county’s housing crisis.
The motion, which has been submitted by Independent councillor Tim Dwelly and seconded by Lib Dem group leader Edwina Hannaford, will go before the next full council meeting at County Hall on Tuesday.
It also has the support of councillors John Fitter, Hilary Frank, Julian German, Thalia Marrington, Jim McKenna, Loic Rich, Tamsyn Widdon and Paul Wills.
Cllr Dwelly’s recommendation states: “Cornwall Council strongly supports a devolution package that gives significant new powers and funding to Cornwall, but rejects the Government’s condition of a directly elected Mayor or Governor of Cornwall.”
In his submission, Cllr Dwelly explains that the council had previously secured devolution from the Government without the need for any change in its governance. And in 2016 the council voted to reject calls for a directly elected mayor for Cornwall.
The motion adds: “This motion seeks to reaffirm this position. It does not propose any particular alternative governance arrangement but instead makes clear to Government that the Mayor/Governor model is not appropriate here in Cornwall.
“This is because Cornwall is a large rural Duchy that has very different characteristics to say London or Manchester. It is highly unlikely that placing considerable power in one person governing Cornwall would be supported by residents.
“In addition, legislation is coming to impose a ‘first past the post’ voting system on elections for this person. Giving one person excessive control on the basis of a system likely to produce a Mayor who most people voted against risks Cornwall being led by an illegitimate leader. One that cannot be replaced by councillors if they lose the confidence of the Chamber.
“A mayor would choose and control Cornwall Council’s Cabinet but could lack credibility with voters if they had been elected by a minority with most voting for others. Cornwall’s motto is “One and All”. It is not “One over All”. This needs to be understood if Cornish devolution is to be a success.”
And the motion adds: “The Mayor model may well be appropriate in city regions and large cities. Cornish towns and the city of Truro already have mayors. But the imposition of a powerful mayor or governor for the whole of the Duchy of Cornwall could arguably be open to ridicule and could add another unnecessary layer to the governance of Cornwall.
“It could also be costly. In cities with mayors, for example Bristol, the mayor’s office costs around £700,000 per annum and employs 11 staff.”
It concludes: “By voting for this motion we can rapidly move on to focus on what matters most to the people of Cornwall: more powers and fairer funding for the benefit of everyone in Cornwall, rather than a single person being put in charge of our future.”
However, a report from officers in response to the motion says that if Cornwall Council decided not to have a directly elected leader it would “limit the council’s ambition” to just Level 2 of the Government’s devolution proposals, rather than Level 3 which would allow for more powers to be devolved.
The report also claims that the request is “premature” as there is “insufficient information” available regarding what would be included in a Level 3 county deal. It also claims that if the council did not support a level three deal it would “limit the council’s ability to address the housing crisis”.
Officers recommend that the motion should be referred to the council’s Cabinet for consideration as “part of the overall County Deal process being led by the executive”.
Cornwall Council will meet at 10.30am on Tuesday at County Hall in Truro when the motion will be considered.
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