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Devolution : Convention Perspective



In November 2000 the Cornish Constitutional Convention was formed.  Our objective is to establish a devolved Assembly for Cornwall, a modern form of governance which strengthens Cornwall and allows Cornwall to address the challenges we face. The Convention is a cross party, cross sector organisation.

The Convention campaigns to achieve the creation of a democratically elected, fully devolved Assembly for Cornwall.  Powers devolved to the Assembly will include health, employment, housing, education, training, social care, emergency services, culture, heritage, arts, sport, economic and rural development, agriculture, fisheries, environment, planning, transport and local government.

The Assembly, Senedh Kernow, will function at roughly the same level as the Welsh or Northern Ireland Assemblies and would have its own direct relationship with central government.  To be clear, we are talking about a body with legislative powers.  There are many reasons for this, for example, the creation of a Cornwall-led planning system within its own legislative framework means that there will be a much greater understanding within the system of Cornwall’s particular issues and opportunities.  Planning decisions would then be taken within a truly Cornish policy framework.  A benefit of this would be the ability to capitalise on our strengths, such as our natural capital.

Like the Northern Ireland or Welsh Assemblies, Senedh Kernow will decide its own strategy and policy within its areas of competence and will be responsible for overseeing implementation and delivery in Cornwall.

The Scottish Referendum has generated a debate in the UK and beyond about devolution.  This is a debate with a long history in Cornwall, from the Liberals and federalism in the 1900s to the formation of Mebyon Kernow in 1951 to over 10% of Cornwall’s population calling for a referendum on the issue in 2001.

The Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats have all talked of their support for devolution during the current Scottish Referendum campaign.  Just last year the coalition government announced further powers for the Welsh Assembly.

With the logic of devolution seemingly settled – the benefits to a place of greater local decision-making and accountability, and improving the social and economic fortunes and opportunities – then the debate for the rest of the UK is inevitable.

The Cornish Constitutional Convention believes that greater decision making within Cornwall, with decisions taken as close to residents as possible, will help to reinvigorate democracy.  This is a key driver for us.

Instinctively we know that the people of Cornwall (or any region) know what is best for their region.  We have a better understanding of the issues affecting our community than people in Westminster.  We should not have to constantly ask permission.  Dealing with civil servants hundreds of miles away is not a good use of public money.  Cornwall should be able to make decisions on its own behalf.

I believe it is not a coincidence that of the ten poorest areas in Northern Europe, 9 are in the UK.  The UK has been the most centralised State, the others having significant regional devolution.  London by contrast is the richest area.  Whilst London has its global role as a financial centre, let us not forget the Greater London Authority (GLA), over which the Mayor and London Assembly preside, has significant devolution of powers.

The devolution to London shows that the debate is not just about nations, but also regions.  Witness the growth of Yorkshire First, for example.  The GLA has much greater powers than a Local Authority, for example, over transport, policing, economic development, fire and emergency planning.  If London can have control over its police, then why not Cornwall?  In an area such as Cornwall, why not bring the blue light services together, responsive to the needs of the people of Cornwall?

Cornwall Council and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership have been demonstrating Cornwall’s need for greater control in these areas and requesting this from government.  Transport for London type powers would allow the creation of a much more joined up and efficient public transport network, crucial for social and economic well-being.

London has the highest level of devolution regarding European funding, yet Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has the highest amount per head of population.  If it is right for Londoners to decide how this funding is spent, why not the people of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly?

Output / result

CIoS Target

2007-11 local delivery

2011-14 national commissioning

  Priority 4. Tackling barriers to employment

  Participant total




  In work on leaving




  14-19 NEET into EET




  Priority 5. Improving the skills of the local workforce

  Participant total




  Gained basic skills




  Gained level 2




  Gained level 3




  Gained level 4




  Gained level 5  




The 2007-2013 ESF Convergence programme is a national Operational Programme with a separate Cornwall and Isles of Scilly chapter and, for the first years of delivery (programme launch to 2011), the programme was run and commissioned locally by a team solely responsible for CIoS delivery working with (in the main) locally-based providers that understood the skills requirements in the Convergence area.

The second half of the programme was nationally run with nationally procured contractors delivering across the whole country and often not aware of the needs, geography or specific requirements.  As a result, some of the specifications have required significant redesigning after commissioning to enable local needs to be met.  This has delayed delivery considerably and led to activity that replicated, rather than added value to, that already available - hence the reduced participation in the second half of the programme.

Analysis of output data for the current Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Convergence Programme compares the two different delivery styles and demonstrates the importance of local delivery.

The contrast in both participation rates and outcomes are stark.  The need for locally determined commissioning is key in achieving results.

Economic devolution would allow our European status to be fully recognised and our very specific and systemic issues to be addressed.  This is commonplace within Europe and indeed is also the case for West Wales and the Valleys.  Why not Cornwall?

In the recent call for evidence on fiscal devolution to cities and city regions Cornwall Council responded: “With a recognised brand and clear devolution aspirations, Cornwall (and if it wishes the Isles of Scilly) should have the opportunity to aspire to greater autonomy; this is not just an issue for cities.”

Cornwall has a strong identity and forms a discrete economic area.  Without rural regions playing a productive role in the UK’s economy, the country will not fulfil its potential.

There will be direct positive economic consequences of devolution.  Cornwall’s experience is that while it loses out on top public service jobs, relatively prosperous administrative centres have benefitted, such as Exeter, Bristol and London.  Estimates of revenues lost to Cornish businesses by the relative absence of public servants located in Cornwall vary, but one estimate is that this amounts to £60m per annum, which in itself would make a significant contribution.

The Cornish Constitutional Convention believes that the amalgamation and democratisation of public services will provide a better, more efficient and responsive service for residents.

Cornish devolution provides an opportunity to create an efficient and integrated civil service.  At present government and public administration is provided by a myriad of government departments and quangos dispersed over a large number of locations.  It is hardly surprising that this leads to uncoordinated policies and implementation.

So let’s be clear, by devolution we are not talking of separation, of dissolution or of division.  Rather, we are talking of empowering, enabling and enhancing.  Empowering regions to make those decisions best suited to a local emphasis.  Enabling regions to tailor public services and infrastructure to the needs of the region.  Enhancing the quality of our lives and the contribution we can make to the whole, whether that be Cornwall, the UK, Europe or the world community.

Following the Scottish Referendum the status quo cannot continue.  A new inclusive settlement that identifies clear roles and responsibilities for regional government is required.  There should be clear budgets. Real accountability. Real decision-making powers.

Devolution should not stop at the Cornwall level. As the logic flows for devolution to regions it also makes sense to devolve to the communities within them.  The Cornish Constitutional Convention wants to see decision-making at the closest possible level to residents.  It would seem sensible to utilise the existing Parish and Town councils in this regard.  The structure of local government is a decision for the Cornish Assembly.

There is a growing consensus around devolution for Cornwall, from residents to academics, from politicians to business people.  We need to build upon this and ensure that Cornwall speaks with one voice.

There is no valid argument based on size for Cornwall not having a regional assembly; comparisons with equivalent European regions suggest that a modern Cornish assembly would be effective, flexible and able to react in a timely manner to resolve Cornish issues and grasp Cornish challenges.  We have a population comparable with Luxembourg, a geographical area similar to Sonderjylland in Denmark, and an economy matching that of Estonia, Iceland or Cantabria in Spain.  There are many comparative examples from further afield.

So not only is the issue of size a nonsense, it is often deployed along with Cornwall not having enough intellectual resource.  Whilst understanding that this is not an issue for comparative areas, it is also important to state that having a Cornish Assembly is not about being isolationist.  Just as the UK joins with NATO, or people travel abroad for specialist medical treatment, the Cornish Assembly would play its part in the international community, forming relationships that mean expertise and advice can be called upon from around the world.

We need to ensure the words of those supporting devolution now are translated into actions.  We need to seek commitments and make sure that Westminster delivers.  We need Cornwall to speak with one voice to Government to ensure a successful future for one and all.

The Convention restates its desire to develop a fully devolved Assembly for Cornwall, that is fit for purpose, capable of addressing the severe and persistent economic problems faced by Cornwall, and which will develop policies that will realise the full potential of the people of Cornwall.

Give Cornwall the resources and responsibilities and it will deliver, not only for the people of Cornwall, but for the UK.



© Cornish Constitutional Convention




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