Skip to main content

Localism enough slogans already, what will happen? and what will it cost?

There is a lot of talk by government MPs about their coveted localism and what good it will do to Cornwall. But I don't know what they mean. I understand the concept don't get me wrong, I've heard the slogans of 'power to the townhall' in fact I'm sick of hearing them. We know localism has introduced directly elected mayors to English cities and been rejected by voters in others. But what does it actually mean for Cornwall? what does power to the townhall mean?  Is it a credible alternative to a 'costly' Cornish assembly as George Eustice and Sarah Newton claim? Here's my thoughts...

Firstly and foremostly, I have to say I hate the word localism, I think it means devolution to local government but there's no clear simple definition. Why the real widely used word devolution could not have been used is beyond me. There is nothing local about the invention of localism, localism is not local councils demanding more power it is about the centre offering more power to the periphery. Localism is the idea of central government, imposed upon local government. The devolution of powers is something I welcome don't get me wrong, but I fear that central government inventing and dictating what localism is and isn't to local government, is a deeply flawed beginning to the whole process.

Outlining their localist versus nationalist agenda in an article titled Devolution is defunct Sarah Newton and George Eustice Conservative MP, (formerly of UKIP) roundly condemn the assembly campaign :

Instead of clinging to this defunct devolution agenda, Cornwall must embrace a forward-looking approach. Rather than espousing the politics of victimhood and isolationism, our agenda must project Cornwall as a distinct, self-confident but outward-looking and enthusiastic part of the UK.

Other than depicting the ideas of devolutionists such as Mebyon Kernow in a meaningless way, they portray their ideas as positive and ours as negative. Which is a cheap political trick, they're bad we're good, they offer poverty and sadness, we offer wealth and happiness blah blah blah. I'm not interested in their sound bite critique of other parties and groups. What does interest me is what localism is and what it actually means. From my perspective it is clear that there is a clearly made case for a Cornish assembly, the petition pictured above outlines some powers. The Mebyon Kernow website clearly explains MK's position and ideas and the Cornish Constitutional Convention website offers research and publications outlining how an assembly would work. We might not know the exact details but we can be clear that plans for a Cornish assembly offer legislation to be written in Cornwall, for services -and importantly jobs- to be devolved to a Cornwall but for us to remain distinctly part of the UK, leaving some powers vested with central Westminster.

What does localism offer? how will a 'localist' Cornwall Council deliver the Conservative promises of 'distinct, self-confident but outward looking and enthusiastic part of the UK'. There are so many questions yet to be answered:

What powers will be devolved?
How will Cornwall be distinct?
How will these powers makes us 'self confident'?
Does Cornwall have a self confidence problem?
Will people in Cornwall make the decisions?
What decisions will Westminster make?
Will quangos, departments and bureaucrats be devolved to Cornwall?
Or will jobs and administration remain in London?
Will council tax pay for services previously supplied by central government?
When will the locals get a say in localism?

All these things are abundantly unclear, I would imagine the 'distinct' aspect of the benefits of localism is an out and out fabrication. It is impossible for everywhere to be under the same uniform Westminster localism policy and yet be distinct in any meaningful way.

One of the Tory arguments against a Cornish assembly deserves some mention and indeed merit, the old refrain it will cost taxpayers more, this is an effective political argument these days and they deploy it well:
"This should be less about paying for more politicians in a costly assembly and more about giving those councillors we already have a greater say."
So the simplistic logic an assembly would cost more, indeed it can not be denied. The reorganisation of government is a costly process whether it be devolution or umm localism (you say potato). If the accusation is that a Cornish assembly would be expensive what then is the true cost of all these unannounced policies of localism? Call me a cynic if you will, but no one can do more for less. If Cornwall Council is to do more, to take control of services and to make more decisions, this will cost more. Councillors salaries, civil servants wages, consultants fees (it is Cornwall Council after all), rental on buildings, electricity, fuel etc. If we are to argue costs of devolution, we should consider costs for both localism and an assembly. We should also consider plans for an assembly include devolution of tax payers money to Cornwall from the Treasury. Localism however is ambiguous, whether council tax will be raided or the Treasury for these extra cost of localist local government is as clear as mud.

The Conservative MPs for Camborne and Redruth, Truro and Falmouth can criticise the assembly campaign that is their right to do so, they can brush aside the 50,000 signatories (albeit ten years ago), if they want. But if a man elected by less than 16,000 people and a woman elected by less than 21,000 can hope to hold authority on the subject, will they please inform the general public of what their ideas actually are? And how these grand promises of a better future can be both realised and paid for? The cross party campaign for a Cornish Assembly has clear well researched ideas of how to implement devolution, our cards are on the table, but when will the government reveal its hand?

Popular posts from this blog

The 3 actions Penzance Town Centre needs from Cornwall Council

My name is Rob Simmons and I'm a candidate for Penzance East in this Thursdays Cornwall Council election and these are my 3 priorities for our town centre:  1 Action on reducing Parking Fees  2 Action on unfair business rates 3 Action on empty shops and buildings.  I firmly believe that Cornwall Council ought to do more to support Penzance Town Centre and these 3 changes would be a massive leap forward.

1.Action on Parking Fees, Penzance has some of the highest parking fees in Cornwall, we all know that it puts people off coming to town and crucially shoppers from staying for longer periods. With out of town retail parks popping up everywhere and the lure and convenience of the internet our town centre needs help. Cornwall Council must do it's part in supporting the town centre. Penzance needs a Cornwall Councillor that will lobby to change this and find a solution that benefits us and stops CC seeing Penzance as a way of making money. We need to see a major overhaul of parking…

A breath of fresh air at Penzance Town Council

The election has certainly rung a great many changes at Penzance Town Council. There are now 12 brand new councillors (although Simon Reed has been on the council before). Between retirements and not getting re-elected not a single mayor that served between 2013-2017 is now on the council and only 1 that served as deputy mayor in that time are still on the council. A number of former mayors, deputy mayors and chairs and vice chairs of committees are also no longer with the council. Or to put it another way many of the active town councillors that formed the approach and policies of the town council in the past are no longer there pulling the strings.

When I was first elected back in 2013 there was a feeling that (long overdue) change had been brought to the council, that those new people elected had brought change. That was the feeling with 8 new councillors elected and 12 of the existing councillors being re-elected. This time around there are 12 new councillors and only 8 from befo…

Some of my work for Penzance or why I'd be an effective Cornwall Councilor

This blog intends to illustrate some of my work for Penzance and to show the kind of issues I have supported and argued against, over the last few years. In this time of great political turmoil and with Brexit looming large on the horizon, it is more important than ever to have representatives that will stand up for issues, knows how to campaign effectively and gets things done. There are 2 sections below; 1 being an effective councillor and 2 standing up for local issues, these are the reasons why I think I am a very credible Cornwall Council candidate and why with a greater platform I could be more effective in making things happen. This is only a glimpse of my work for Penzance East, please read some of  my older posts for more and as always any questions or comments find me on twitter @cernyw or drop me an email

Being an effective councillor:

I was elected onto Penzance Town Council back in 2013, when I also stood for Cornwall Council for Penzance East. I…