Opposition councillors call for ‘disastrous’ Cornwall devolution deal to be abandoned
Richard Whitehouse, local democracy reporter
Opposition councillors have called on Cornwall’s Tory administration to reject a devolution deal which would deliver additional funding and give some new decision-making powers to the local authority.
The council is currently considering whether to accept the deal from the UK Government which would require it to be run by a directly elected mayor.
Results from a public survey which formed part of a major consultation scheme run by the council found that 69% of people believed that the council should not accept the deal and that there should not be a directly elected mayor at the head of the council.
But the Conservative administration has said that another survey commissioned by the council, which was conducted face to face and on the telephone, found that 65% of people were in favour of the deal and a directly elected mayor.
Under the deal Cornwall Council would get some more responsibilities, including the adult education budget for Cornwall, and around £390million of extra funding. The main bulk of that funding – £360m – would be paid over a period of 30 years and be worth £12m a year.
The results of the consultation, which were published last week, are set to go before an extraordinary meeting of the council’s Cabinet next Wednesday (5 April) when leading Conservative councillors will decide how to proceed with the plans.
Their recommendations will then go to a meeting of full council on April 18 which is also set to look at whether a referendum should be held to decide whether the council accepts the devolution deal and change in governance.
But opposition councillors say that the results of the consultation are clear and that the council would do better to abandon the current proposals and instead work with the government to secure a better deal for Cornwall.
Jayne Kirkham, leader of the Labour group, said: “69% of the people who answered the consultation said they did not want a mayor for Cornwall. Yet the Conservative administration is still proceeding to a Cabinet decision on a mayor and a recommendation to proceed.
“This Conservative ‘county deal’ is not real devolution. Very few powers would actually be devolved from Westminster in return for an imposed mayor under a first past the post-election. We already have a unitary council and a leader.
“An incoming Labour government will enact real devolution for Cornwall. Cornwall will have more power to make our decisions locally. On housing, planning, skills, childcare, transport, further education, and more. We will be able to negotiate a bespoke deal for Cornwall that takes our National Minority status into account.
“We will have more control over the money invested in Cornwall’s economy and will push for a cluster of innovation to invest in and benefit from the raw materials and expertise that we have in renewable energy and other industries. We will be able to choose how we are governed. A Labour government won’t force a mayor on Cornwall like the Tories are trying to do.”
Liberal Democrat councillor and former MP Andrew George added: “Seven out of every 10 residents rejected the Conservatives’ proposed “Mayor for Cornwall”. Thousands responded to Cornwall Council’s “consultation” on the proposed “devolution deal”. But the Conservatives say they’ll ignore the public and press on with their disastrous plan.
“Even though the rigged “consultation” questionnaire made it virtually impossible to object to the plan, the public weren’t duped. They saw through the paper-thin promises; they can see the “Mayor” will be a puppet controlled from Westminster; and they realise the magic-money-tree bribes are worthless.
“Rather than persisting with this preposterous policy, the Conservatives should listen to the people, scrap it, and work across parties to fight for real powers and the fair funding Cornwall needs and deserves – to have the ambition to achieve devolution and status equivalent to that in Wales.”
Independent councillor Tim Dwelly said: “These are devastating results for the leadership of the council. Not only the 69% against deal with a mayor but the incredibly low 25% in favour, which I believe may be the lowest ever support for change to a mayor.
“The council leadership is trying to hide behind a dubious so-called representative survey. We have no doubt that the public opinion is as set out in the consultation response which is more than two-thirds against.”
Council leader Linda Taylor said about the results: “It is clear from these results that those who are opposed to the deal and the introduction of a mayor feel very strongly on the issue.
“However, we know that most people want more decisions about Cornwall to be made in Cornwall, and the ‘silent majority’ seems, on balance, to favour the deal, including an elected mayor.”
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