A Cornish MP says that proposals to have a directly elected mayor for Cornwall should be separated from the Duchy’s latest bid for more powers and funding from the Government. George Eustice has tabled an amendment to the Levelling Up Bill which he hopes will highlight Cornwall’s unique position in relation to devolution.
[Cornwall is seeking a level 3 devolution deal, which currently requires an elected mayor, where Devon and its constituent unitary authorities are seeking a level 2 deal. No easy summary of the difference. – Owl]
Richard Whitehouse www.cornwalllive.com
The Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt announced in his recent autumn statement that Cornwall was one of the areas which would have a directly elected mayor as part of its latest devolution deal. The Government has said that in order to get the top level three deal Cornwall Council would have to change its governance system to have a directly elected mayor.
However, a campaign has been launched to try and secure a referendum so that people in Cornwall have a chance to vote on whether there should be a mayor. Under the current proposals the decision on having a mayor will be taken by the 87 Cornwall councillors.
Whilst supporters of the change claim it will bring additional funding and powers to Cornwall and give the Duchy a stronger voice, critics say that it will be a costly endeavour which will only duplicate what is already in place and increase bureaucracy.
Mr Eustice, MP for Camborne and Redruth, has tabled two amendments to the Levelling Up Bill which is currently going through Parliament. The first seeks to ensure that when making any decisions on devolution the Government takes into account the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCPNM) which recognises the Cornish as a national minority.
The second amendment seeks to change the rules so that local authorities can secure a level three devolution deal without the need for a directly elected mayor. Both amendments have been supported by St Ives MP Derek Thomas.
Mr Eustice said that he considered that whilst there might be a case for having a change in governance he did not think that a devolution deal should be dependent on it. He said: “I am quite agnostic about a mayor. I know there are good arguments for one with the idea that you would have a single, strong voice for Cornwall and being directly elected would give more accountability.
“On the other hand there is something about Cornwall that having just one person having that power is uncomfortable – one for all rather than one and all – which goes against our sensibilities.
“Whether we should have a mayor, and the merits of having a mayor, is an issue of governance, it is a separate question to the one about securing devolution. If having a mayor is the right then then we should have one, but by not having a mayor should not mean we do not get a devolution deal.”
Mr Eustice said that ten years ago the FCPNM had been “pushed quite hard” by MPs including Liberal Democrat Dan Rogerson and was accepted by then Prime Minister David Cameron.
He said: “What the amendment says is that when considering the devolution deal the Government must have regard for what it means for the national minority. What that does is Cornwall is the only place in the whole of England that has a recognised national minority which makes Cornwall, legally, a special case.”
A motion on whether there should be a referendum held asking Cornwall residents if they want a mayor is set to go to a meeting of full council on Tuesday. In response to that motion the council has indicated that the proposed devolution deal could bring £390million into Cornwall – although there are no details about the timescale of the funding or what it would be for.
Mr Eustice wrote in a comment piece in the Western Morning News at the weekend that he was not in favour of a referendum which he said could be “quite painful and divisive”. He did praise council leader Linda Taylor for stating that councillors will be given a free vote when the time comes to decide what to do.
He said: “Each one of them will be able to listen carefully to residents in their own ward, hear arguments on both sides and then make up their own mind. That’s how it should be on a big issue like this and other parties in Cornwall should do the same. A development such as this would be an important constitutional change and we need there to be a free and open discussion about the merits of both courses of action.”