No referendum on Cornwall mayor amid concerns UK Government is imposing change ‘through the back door’
Richard Whitehouse, local democracy reporter
The leader of Cornwall Council has said that there are no plans to hold a referendum to give people the chance to decide whether they want a Mayor for Cornwall.
Conservative councillor Linda Taylor has said that a referendum on the issue would cost £1.4million and due to this the council was not planning to hold one.
Opponents of the move said that they felt a mayor was being imposed by the UK Government “through the back door”.
Cornwall Council is currently in negotiations with Westminster about a new County Deal which would devolve more powers and responsibility to Cornwall along with possible new funding. However the UK Government has said that in order to get the deal Cornwall would have to change its own system of governance.
The council is currently operated under a strong leader and cabinet system but the new system would see a Mayor for Cornwall directly elected by residents who would then lead Cornwall assisted by a cabinet of councillors.
Under the current system the leader of the council is elected by councillors and not chosen directly by the people.
Critics say that the role would give one person too much power and control over what happens in Cornwall and also claim that it could cost taxpayers up to £1million a year, based on the cost of other elected mayors in other parts of the country.
Details of the County Deal have not been made public but it is believed that the draft proposals have been delivered to County Hall and that council leader Linda Taylor is set to agree in principle before then carrying out a public consultation on the matter.
However, whilst the consultation will give people a chance to share their views, there are no plans for the council to hold a vote on the issue. A petition has been set up calling for a referendum whilst a number of town and parish councils have also agreed motions calling for a public vote on whether a Mayor for Cornwall is required.
Cllr Taylor has also indicated that she would be willing to stand for election to be Mayor for Cornwall if chosen by the Conservative Party to do so. It has been claimed that the role could have an allowance of up to £80,000 a year.
The online petition calling for a referendum, set up by a cross party group called Let Cornwall Decide, has gathered 4,339 signatures to date and the group says that another 1,000 signatures have been collected on paper petitions using stalls in town centres across Cornwall.
This means that the petition can be presented to a meeting of Cornwall Council which will then debate the issue. To date there has been no debate of councillors about the issue of a Mayor for Cornwall.
In an email sent to all council members last week Cllr Taylor explained more about the Mayor for Cornwall. She said: “The council is currently negotiating a devolution deal with Government, to secure long term investment and to enable more decisions about Cornwall being made in Cornwall for the benefit of our residents and businesses.
“In this time of real financial challenge, we believe the opportunity to secure additional investment for Cornwall, together with greater influence to acquire even more funding and powers for the Duchy, is critical to the lives and livelihoods of all our residents. It is hoped that devolution deal can be agreed in principle during the Autumn.
“The key to securing the most ambitious deal possible from Government requires a change in how the political leadership of the council is determined; from a Council Leader appointed by the 87 members of the council, to a Council Mayor directly elected by the people of Cornwall.
“The required change in the council’s executive governance model from that of Leader and Cabinet to that of Directly Elected Mayor and Cabinet could either be taken following a resolution of Full Council or following the outcome of a referendum on the issue. A referendum could either be held if the Council resolves to hold one – or must be held if a valid petition is received.
“Given the cost of a referendum would be in the region of £1.4million, the council does not plan to hold a referendum on this issue. Further, as the proposed change to the council’s executive governance model is to fulfil the requirements of a Level 3 devolution deal it is planned, instead, to put the details of the devolution deal including the required change to the Council’s executive governance model out to a full public consultation.
“The current planned timetable would provide for the first election of a Directly Elected Mayor to take place in May 2023. The first term of the Directly Elected Mayor would be for two years.
“The second election of a Directly Elected Mayor would take place in May 2025 and then the elections would be four yearly after that to tie in with the local elections. The Directly Elected Mayor cannot be removed from office by residents or by Cornwall councillors during their term.”
Independent councillor Tim Dwelly, who is also part of the Let Cornwall Decide group, said: “Cornwall Council has never debated or voted on a mayor and the last time it did it voted against having a mayor.
“Now we are hearing that the leader won’t even ask the people what they think of a Mayor for Cornwall and won’t even ask her own Cabinet.
“And, bizarrely, she is planning to approve the Government forcing Cornwall to have a mayor to govern in principle and then run a so-called consultation instead of asking the people to vote on it.
“It is quite astonishing that someone who has declared that they would like to be the mayor and be paid twice as much as they are now is now pushing ahead with it without asking the people whether they want it. We could end up with a mayor through the back door.
“It is simple – let the people of Cornwall decide, ask them if they want a mayor for Cornwall. That is not groundbreaking, it is normal to ask the people, the wrong way of doing it is having a person who wants the job to decide if this goes ahead without pausing to think if it is democratic.”
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