Cornwall Parliament devolution bid lost following ‘shabby powergrab’
The failure of the recent bid for a devolution deal for Cornwall which called for a directly-elected mayor has led to fresh calls for a possible Cornish Parliament or National Assembly of Cornwall. However, a motion led by Mebyon Kernow (MK) leader Dick Cole to start negotiations with Westminster for a self-governing deal similar to Wales or Scotland was narrowly beaten at a full Cornwall Council meeting yesterday (Tuesday, April 18).
The cross-party proposal stated that “we are disappointed that recent discussions about devolution have not featured consideration of a settlement that would give Cornwall greater parity with Wales and Scotland. Cornwall Council resolves to inform the UK Government that we wish to commence negotiations for a more meaningful devolution settlement similar to those enjoyed in other Celtic parts of the UK”.
The motion also sought a meeting between the secretary of state and a cross-party delegation from Cornwall Council as “a matter of urgency”. Cllr Cole stressed that it wasn’t a bid for Cornish independence, but Cornwall “being part of the UK with its own powers”.
The council’s Cabinet agreed earlier this month that it would no longer seek a Level 3 deal – the one that required a directly-elected Mayor for Cornwall to unlock £360 million over 30 years – but instead start negotiations with the Government to secure a Level 2 deal, which would not require a mayor, and try to secure as many of the elements of the Level 3 deal as possible. The Government has already stated that a £360million investment fund which was in the Level 3 deal would not be available under a Level 2 deal.
Mr Cole has been an outspoken critic of the mayor proposals which had been considered by the council and strongly pushed by its Conservative leadership, saying that they were not true devolution and that the authority should have been pressing for far greater powers, responsibilities and funding to be devolved to Cornwall from Westminster.
The new proposal was seconded by fellow MK member Loveday Jenkin, who said that since the 1960s Cornwall has lost autonomy when it comes to vital matters such as housing, particularly the ability to tax second home ownership, and rural planning. She said it was time for fellow councillors to have the courage of their convictions and to “think with their conscience”.
In an impassioned speech in the chamber, fellow MK councillor Michael Bunney said it was time to go beyond “petty party politics”, adding that “politics is broken in this country” and that it was time to get excited about devolution for Cornwall. Independent councillor Julian German agreed that Cornwall needed legislative and fiscal powers to “make a real difference to our residents’ lives”.
Fellow independent councillor Tim Dwelly said that Cornwall Council’s reputation had suffered after the recent Mayor of Cornwall “shabby powergrab” – the Tory leaders dropped the idea after a survey showed most respondents did not want it. Also referring to the mayoral bid, Liberal Democrat councillor and ex-MP Andrew George believed the motion would take the whole devolution debate forward “having learned lessons from the recent past”. He argued it wasn’t about Cornwall cutting itself off but increasing its standing in the world.
Linda Taylor, Conservative leader of the council, said that while she respected Cllr Cole’s ambition she could not support the motion for practical reasons, arguing that there needed to be more of a comprehensive plan and an impact assessment, as well as the substantial backing of the Cornish electorate, which should mean a referendum. In a rare moment of agreement, Jayne Kirkham – Labour Party group leader – said she understood Cllr Taylor’s point about uncertainty over the motion, but felt that it opened a dialogue.
Cllr John Fitter felt that the people of Cornwall felt “rather bruised” and the “silent majority had spoken and rejected” a Mayor for Cornwall. He believed that any further devolution measures would rest on consulting residents and nothing should be done as a “jump reaction” to the failed mayoral campaign.
An angry Councillor Richard Pears, a member of the Conservative Cabinet, said: “I have to sit here and listen to people who have just blocked the biggest devolution deal for Cornwall talking about how important devolution is.” He added the motion was “all things to all people, but says nothing”. He added: “Over the last few weeks I’ve heard a Mayor of Cornwall being referred to as a dictator. What would a first minister be?”
The motion was narrowly lost – 36 councillors voted for, 38 against and one abstained.
- ^ Cornwall Council (www.cornwalllive.com)
- ^ Cornwall (www.cornwalllive.com)
- ^ Council leader to press for a good deal for Cornwall despite dropping plans (www.cornwalllive.com)
- ^ here (www.cornwalllive.com)
- ^ dropped the idea after a survey showed (www.cornwalllive.com)
- ^ Liberal Democrat (www.cornwalllive.com)
- ^ Andrew George (www.cornwalllive.com)
- ^ Conservative leader (www.cornwalllive.com)
- ^ Labour Party (www.cornwalllive.com)