Sunday, 3 February 2013

Will Cornwall Council keep Lavery's hyperdevelopment agenda

For a start this isn't a blog outlining some conspiracy theory over the concreteing of Cornwall. The push for more and more house house building might be viewed as a conspiracy I suppose but its based on a seemingly rational argument that increasing the population of Cornwall is for our own good and would protect us from austerity. I think actually this logic is deeply flawed and naive but the argument is not without merit.

At the Councilor fair the other week Kevin Lavery gave his view of the council and what he saw as the future. I found this approach disappointing, I don't believe its the job of civil servants to espouse visions of the future. I firmly believe that politicians need to do this and that long term strategy needs to be democratically based. In simple terms explained to the electorate and decided by them at the ballot box. At the event it was very useful to hear various councillors explain what they do and the challenges they face as elected representatives. At no time were councilors given the opportunity to express their vision of Cornwall and our governance through Cornwall Council. It's obvious to me that politicians play second fiddle to bureacrats in developing long term strategies. Whether this is due to structural weaknesses in the role of councillors or a symptom of the weakness and division in the ruling Conservative and Independent  group it needs to change.

The future for local government here as elsewhere is bleak. Harried by central government with cuts in funding and then demonised if raising tax is proposed. The agenda is set by central government and that agenda is cuts to services, as Andrew Long put it cuts that go past the fat and cut into the muscle. In fact Kevin Lavery even used that quote in his speech when he explained that further cuts in the future would mean Cornwall Council would have had a 50% cut in funding. He also explained that this will cut front line services and hard, administrative savings were being made but as they only form 5% of the budget it wouldn't make a lot of difference.

So that brings me to Kevin's grand idea, that hyperdevelopment the rapid building of housing on greenfield site would solve this problem. In short that more people living here means more council tax. This would mean less reliance on Westminster for funding, now that's all well and good. More houses equals more council tax which equals more money for the council thats a fact.

Logical in its own terms, however it doesn't address the fact that Cornwall Council isn't the be all and end all of the public sector in Cornwall. Central government still controls the NHS and trunk roads to name but two things. Sure we pay for them through income tax, VAT, corporation tax etc etc but their funding is controlled by Westminster and Whitehall. So take the A30 for example campaigners fought for decades to get more sections dualled the infamous Goss Moor section only happened when Europe stepped in and funded a project that fuel duty and road tax receipts ought to have paid for many times over. Take Treliske Hospital for example, 4,000 jobs to be lost a huge percentage from the Cornish NHS which has been consistently underfunded for years. How will their existing funding problems be solved by an exponential increase in the population of Cornwall? How ever will they cope with all that extra traffic and patients? More people will increase funding for local government that's a fact, like it or not, but this is the problem with these decisions being made by someone solely responsible for the council. Politicians need to be making these decisions and they need to think long and hard about the wider issues of funding and infastructure across all of Cornwall not just navel gazing at Cornwall Council's problems. There are no silver bullets to solve Cornwall's problems and I would argue that ensuring locally affordable housing ought to be a priority and building tens of thousands of houses with little regard for this problem will be a mistake. This should be the focus and Cornwall's needs should be at the forefront of the Core Strategy rather than the council's funding. Which is a seperate issue that needs addressing on its own. The real question is how will councilors vote on the Core Strategy and will Lavery's bright idea be his legacy in Lys Kernow?