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The Cornish Question - Address by John Pollard, Leader Cornwall Council

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I would like to take this opportunity to update Council on the latest developments on the devolution Agenda.

As Councillors are aware Cornwall Council has long campaigned for greater authority and powers so that we can control more of our own affairs. Of course the vote in Scotland last week has highlighted the wider issue of Devolution of power from Westminster and the discussion has moved from the Scottish Question, to what people describe as the English Question.

This morning I would like to address the Cornish Question!

Political opportunity is a capricious thing – I do believe that this moment is a vital one for the future of Cornwall.  Transfer of power is the topic of the moment.  The spotlight is on the repercussions of the Scots referendum.  Debate about policy and a way forward is the flavour of the month as the major political parties hold their conferences, respond to the no vote north of the border and construct their manifestos for the General election.

We must not waste this moment.  We must seize the opportunity it provides and we must, as a matter of urgency, construct and make our case.

I am very grateful to those who managed to ensure that local media were provided with comment and response while I was away last week.  I am very conscious from what I have seen all sorts of people and bodies have been interviewed by the media, but a clear direct and bold statement from Cornwall Council has been lacking.  It is essential we change this situation forthwith.

I watched BBC Southwest last night – a ten minute segment on the impact of the Scots referendum.  Lots of comments and men in Cornish tartan, but no mention of Cornwall Council.

Yet we are the local authority.  We represent the whole of geographic Cornwall.  We are a Unitary Authority.  We have co-terminosity in many important areas of governance and we have worked consistently on trying to retain the power to run our own affairs.

We will be dualling the A30 because we showed Westminster that we are capable of delivering what the Cornish people require more quickly and cheaply than central government.  We have worked with the LEP to ensure that we have Integrated Territorial Investment status to maximise the impact of different funding streams. 

I have made it clear, my personal view is that we do not need new layers of government; Cornwall Council can deliver what an Assembly would if we are given the authority.

This will not be radical enough for some and a step too far for many, BUT unless we agree and make a strong case we will languish as an authority whose potential has never been realised, while cities are given tax raising capability and we face the possibility of contrived unions with counties that bring no benefit.  Or even worse in my view, a ‘regional authority’ stretching from Gloucester to St Mary’s, which I believe has no relevance whatever for what the citizens of Cornwall need and deserve.

Although post referendum the glare of publicity and debate in the media is at its most intense, work has been undertaken by officers over recent months and as leader I have put the case for Cornwall, albeit in general terms.

Now is the moment to act to take the case for Cornwall to the people of the Duchy and thence to Westminster.  Now is the time to establish an agenda that the majority can support. Now, although difficult, is the point where we must try to persuade our political colleagues across Cornwall to coalesce around a common cause.

I would like to take this opportunity to explain what has, is and, I suggest, should happen.

The Local Government Association has published its demands from the next government. I believe that devolved powers are a vital element of that and have invite the Chairman of the Association, Cllr David Sparks, to come to Cornwall and see for himself what we have and wish to do.

As Leader, I have responded to Government enquiries about fiscal devolution to cities and
city regions and Local Government Finance.

As the Independent Group Deputy Chair of the Local Government association’s ‘People and Places Board’ I contribute to the national debate about the specific needs of rural authorities.

As a member of the County Council’s network, I commend their document ‘One Place One Budget’ which sets out their vision for public services to be more closely controlled by local people.  I will share the link for members to read it for themselves.

Today, as leader, I have been asked to add my name to a letter to David Cameron seeking that he understands the views of County and County Unitary authorities when discussing what they describe as a ‘new English devolution settlement’.

As members are aware, a small group representing the Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative groups of this council have been working recently with officers to look at the issue of fairer funding.  I thank them for their work. 

Some of their discussion has started to be formulated into documents which outline their views so that these can then be taken to the wider membership for debate.  It is the beginnings of a Case for Cornwall which we will take through the democratic process to see what support Cornwall Councillors are willing to provide.  Again I can share these ideas with members, but it is very much a work in progress.

Despite all this, I believe Cornwall still has to make its own clarion call for what we want and need.  To this end, and as Leader, I will :
Write to the Leaders of the National Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties stating that we want to engage with them in the debate and seek the opportunity to make Cornwall’s case.

I am very concerned that some form of political union with Devon and Somerset will be on the agenda.  I am determined to work with all neighbouring authorities where beneficial, but truly believe that Cornwall, with the Isles of Scilly, are recognised as a distinct region in European terms and must form the basis of any future devolution.  We have one of our regular meetings with the Council of the Isles of Scilly next week and I will share my personal view with them and seek their views on this agenda.

We are the largest ‘county’ unitary authority in the Country and although the County Council Network has made a case on rural funding, the position of the unitary authorities is distinctive.  I am therefore inviting the leaders of all the County Unitary Authorities to discuss with me our particular issues and demands.

Finally, for Cornwall Council I will be inviting the leaders of all political parties and groups to meet with me as soon as possible to discuss a timetable of action.  

My view is that, based on the papers prepared already and the work of the fair funding group, we need to take something to PACs in November and create a full Case for Cornwall before the turn of the year in order to engage in meaningful discussion with government.

I have asked the Council’s Chief Executive, Andrew Kerr, to convene and chair a group of officers to develop a case that the whole Council can debate.

I have described a great deal today and a copy of this speech will be made available to all. However, I felt it was vital to explain to Council where we are and exhort all members to get fully involved in the debate.

We will not agree on every detail but surely there is no one in this Chamber who does not want the best we can achieve for the citizens of Cornwall.  I invite you all to play a part in constructing our case.

Oll an gwella


John Pollard
Leader of the Council
Cornwall Council

The Exchange, County Hall, Treyew Road, Truro TR1 3AY



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