Far from being “major devolution” or “putting power in their hands and giving them the tools to take charge” as David Cameron claims, the devolution for Cornwall seems stiflingly devoid of any real substance. Aside from positive press for the Tories and false promises for the people of Cornwall and an infrastructure system that seems set up to fail. Writes Owain, Cornwall Branch member.
Cornwall gets its first bit of devolution. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t mean more power for the people of Cornwall, it means less funding from central government, a possible merger between NHS Kernow and Cornwall Council and a decline in health and living standards. “Devolution” means lower wages for people working for the largest employers and a central government that is absolved of any responsibility for the welfare of people in Cornwall.
The people of Cornwall have long held themselves distinct from those of England: an opinion which has expressed itself politically over the centuries. Recently, with the Cornish being granted official recognition from the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of Ethnic minorities, long-held feelings of separatism, also inspired by the recent prominence of the Scottish Nationalists in British politics and across the media, have steered public opinion in favour of devolution.
This Tuesday (14th July) Cornwall Council agreed to the government’s proposed devolution plans. Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership have ominously hoped this would help, “Cornwall Council to achieve economic growth through the many opportunities that this deal creates, including greater flexibility with employment and skills”. Which does indeed seem like a gloomy prospect when you consider how the healthcare system in Cornwall is ridden with disreputable outsourcing firms and mergers involving healthcare services and departments of the local authority. “Flexibility” is never a good thing for workers a term that means they must bend over backwards for the bosses.
Despite the Liberal-Independent group in control of Cornwall Council having long campaigned for more powers for Cornwall central government has decided the terms of the devolution behind closed doors: only granting around a quarter of what had been asked for by the council. Cornwall Council has received the freedom to deliberate locally on a wider range of issues and has not yet been given substantial control over its own finances. The council must incorporate yet more healthcare responsibilities merging NHS Kernow with social services. Services, including public health, have already been handed over to the council several years ago and have since been dissolved into the local authority with a laying-off and rehiring of TUPE’d staff and a reduction in services provided. Services such as cancer screening, public health monitoring and health awareness raising have been drastically affected.
Most of the devolved powers seem more like burdens and restraints rather than measures that genuinely place power in the hands of the local people. Whilst, unlike the DevoManc proposals for the devolution of Greater Manchester, Cornwall will not be getting an elected mayor. Cornwall has been given more control over local planning laws, yet no further powers to regulate the ownership of second homes. Cornwall is a region with some of the highest house prices outside of London and the second poorest region in Western Europe – with a large proportion of the population earning below the average wage – second home-ownership is a serious issue.
Far from being “major devolution” or “putting power in their hands and giving them the tools to take charge” as David Cameron claims, the devolution for Cornwall seems stiflingly devoid of any real substance. Aside from positive press for the Tories and false promises for the people of Cornwall and an infrastructure system that seems set up to fail.
A further concern is that Cornish devolution is merely a flagship operation to test the waters for a scheme that the Tories intend to roll out across local authorities nationwide. It pours scorn on those who have been campaigning long and hard for real powers to be devolved to the people but also generates concerns for the future of public services and jobs, their quality and very existence across the entire country.