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12.7.07

Unitary Authority - a gamble too far

CoSERG (Cornish Social and Economic Research Group) says that no one should be surprised that the Government’s plans to abolish a tier of local government in 13 ‘counties’, including Cornwall, has been met with considerable skepticism when these plans include the culling of local councillors leading to a loss of local representation and democratic accountability.

A representative of CoSERG said, “Such scepticism is apparently not shared by our Liberal Democrat MPs. For them this is a historic opportunity to obtain ‘substantial’ devolution to Cornwall as well as greater powers for town and parish councils. It is also the ‘best chance’ for the devolution that a survey tells them has the support of over 80% of key groups in Cornwall (West Briton, 21 June).

This is indeed welcome evidence of support for the devolution of power away from the South West Regional Development Agency and the secretive and unelected South West ‘Assembly’ at Bristol and Taunton. But the problem is that this is not what the Government is offering.”

CoSERG believes that what is on offer is a re-organisation of local, not regional, government and that there is no promise of special treatment for Cornwall (unless they and others have missed something). They say it appears that our MPs are reassured by a promise from a Government Minister that after a unitary county council is in place then there might be ‘real and meaningful devolution’. However, the research group believes what we are being asked to do is to put our trust in a nod and a wink from a Government Minister that only our MPs have been witness to.

CoSERG asks the question, “If the Government seriously intends to devolve powers to a much-needed Cornish Assembly with real powers and if it wishes to include meaningful devolution to parish and town councils then why doesn’t it just say so – openly, honestly and publicly? They go on to say, “Until we have this promise – and in writing – we should be extremely wary of throwing away what limited local democratic accountability we do possess. Centralising local government on Truro in the hope that this may – at some unstated time in the future – bring devolution seems a gamble too far.”

CoSERG states that it believes that it is naïve to put our faith in reassurances from a Government that has no track record of devolving power away from regional bodies; in fact it has consistently done the opposite. Instead we should be demanding ‘real devolution’ and a proper reform of local government that draws powers down from the ‘county’ level in advance of agreeing to abolish a tier of local government.

The research group believes that what the Lib Dems are asking us to do is support a blank cheque, based on vague assurances rather than concrete proposals and ask, “What will our MPs and Cornwall County Council do when we are saddled with unitary local government and the Government refuses to act on its ‘assurances’?”

( For a free copy of the democratic case against the local government re-organisation currently on offer email CornishSocEconG@aol.com ).

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