Tuesday, 5 March 2013

A vision for Cornwall Council on St Piran's day

Dydh da, Gool Sen Pyran Lowen, Happy St Piran's day. Hope you're all having a good one and celebrating Cornwall in some way on this special day.
Pinched from facebook.com/MebyonKernow
Today is a day to think back to the Cornwall of the past, to celebrate what our rich heritage and history is given us, whether it be the black and white flag of St Piran, the pasty or our language, or any of the many things that typifies Kernow. It's also a time to look forward to reflect on the future as well as the past. I thought now would be a good time to blog on Cornish politics and specifically local government. I wish here to outline what I see as some of the shortcomings of this the first Cornwall Council and what I think can be done to rectify some of these shortcomings and make Cornwall a better governed place.


There were always going to be great challenges for the first Cornwall Council, it was a massive experiment to take 6 district councils and 1 county council and transform that into one mega authority. As Mebyon Kernow among others warned at the time, the savings the Liberal Democrats and Labour claimed were overly optimistic and the benefits dubious. (It cost an estimated £20 million to create unitary and abolish the districts). We have ended up with a centralised local government and here in Penzance -as elsewhere on the periphery- it very much feels like our voice isn't heard and that we have lost the power and influence (not to mention jobs) we used to enjoy under the districts. That said it could have been worse, thankfully the new symbol proposed by the Lib Dems was thrown back into the garbage were it belonged. Unfortunately the £500,000 it cost to design couldn't be discarded.

The great challenge for the next council is how to rectify this immense problem. How to get, what should be and in some senses is, a large and influential body to represent Cornwall better and not just the middle bit. I've said for a long time that one simple and easy way to do this would be to ensure a better geographical spread in the cabinet. Despite the constant chopping and changing Penzance like many Cornish towns has never had a cabinet member, to be fair I don't think any of our present Councillors have had the attendance record and commitment for various reasons to accept such a big responsibility. However the point remains, the cabinet is a simple way to ensure that all parts of Cornwall have fair or at least fairer representation by having cabinet members from all over our land.

But the problem is not just of representation. For whatever reason the last Council leader (Alec Robertson) choose to do away with regular 'State of Cornwall' debates by full council, that were planned. This would have provided a great opportunity for Councillors of all parties and from all corners of Cornwall to have their say and speak up for concerns in their areas.I think this demonstrates one of the ways in which the council is inward looking rather than outward looking. Part of the reason for this is that Cornwall Council has a lot of work to do, if we remember before unitary 7 authorities did what Lys Kernow does now, 123 councilors now do what 331 councilors did before 2009. Add on to this the almighty challenge of brutal cuts coming from central government and the challenges this poses. I don't think for a moment that Cornwall Council looking past its own grounds and considering the whole of Cornwall is an easy task but it is a duty it must embrace.

People look to Cornwall Council for leadership, businesses and industry look to it for support. I have long held the view that the council needs to do more to support industry here, I find it disappointing that tourism gets support, an important part of our economy but it's only a part. All of our other industries don't get barely any support. We've seen great economic hardship since the last election, we've seen shops close, businesses fold and unemployment become more and more common. It ought to be the job of Cornwall Council to help, lets be clear there is only so much it can do, but this is no reason for it to do nothing. Whenever anything closes and people are laid off we must always consider that helping, intervening to stop this has a great cost but there is a much greater cost when people lose their jobs, their wages, their spending power and ultimately their ability to pay tax. Many in Penzance have great fears of the loss of the heliport for example, time will tell but the loss in tourism for the town and Scillonians perhaps no longer visiting will have an economic effect. This is but one example there are countless others across the Duchy. Cornwall Council needs to take a bigger economic role and do more to care for the business and industry that keeps Cornish people in work. Use it's connections, lobbying power and expertise to try to find solutions to some of the problems we face.

The council also needs to do more to lobby for Cornwall to central government. I always had great admiration for the council's attempts to get our trunk roads devolved (assuming our road tax had been diverted as well). Instead the government may or indeed may not upgrade the A30 at Temple. I think it's a shame our roads won't be devolved . Although I admire the council for trying, although I wish that they had been more ambitious. Getting more control and funding for roads is one thing, but its one part of a big picture. Cornwall Council should be lobbying for Cornwall's railways to be upgraded at long last. Look to not only improve our links with England but also our transport links within Cornwall. The council has the power and influence to get our farmers and fisherman's voices heard at central government and in the European Union.

I know many of the things I have written that I want the council to do, are what a Cornish Assembly could do much better. But it is well within the power of Cornwall Council to have more vision and to be more ambitious, to mature as an authority and to speak for Cornwall. To hold our economy as a duty. We face uncertain economic times, the future looks like a nightmare cocktail of austerity and heaven forbid a triple dip recession. The people of Cornwall face huge challenges in the coming years, the price of everything is rising yet wages are stagnating. If I have one vision of where Cornwall Council can go in the next term it is one that spearheads the fight for the Cornish economy. That rises to the challenges before it and tries its best to secure Cornish jobs not simply focusing on how to lay people off.