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25.2.08

MK on the Unitary Authority

MK HITS OUT AT FAILURE OF MPS TO OPPOSE ORDER TO CREATE UNITARY COUNCIL

Government minister confirms that there will be no extra powers for unitary council.

Mebyon Kernow says Cornwall’s Liberal Democrat MPs have let Cornwall down by failing to oppose the passage of the Draft Cornwall (Structural Change) Order 2008 through the House of Commons which will lead to the imposition of a single unitary authority on Cornwall.

The Order was debated in the House of Commons (Delegated Legislation Committee) on 7th February. All five of Cornwall’s MPs were present and four spoke in favour of the Order – even after the Government’s Local Government Minister John Healey MP clarified that “no specific additional powers are attached to this restructuring to establish a single unitary council.”

Andrew George meanwhile used the debate to describe the Order as “technically, legally and politically defective” and a botched job. He also accused the Minister of producing a ‘minimalist’ regulation which “failed to meet the ambitions of the people of Cornwall.”

However, the two MPs representing Cornish constituencies on the Delegated Legislation Committee (Julia Goldsworthy and Dan Rogerson) both voted for the proposal following the debate.

The Order actually passed through the House of Commons on 18th February by 287 votes to 116. Andrew George MP voted against the Order, something described by MK as “an action that is both too little and too late.” The other four Cornish MPs are not recorded as having cast a vote.

Speaking on behalf of Mebyon Kernow, Party Leader Cllr Dick Cole, said:
“Throughout the debate around Cornwall County Council’s bid for a unitary authority, the Liberal Democrat leadership of the Council and Cornwall’s five MPs made claim after claim that a single unitary authority would lead to the devolution.

“They even continued with this misinformation after a leading government civil servant visited Cornwall and rubbished their statements that a unitary authority for Cornwall would be given greater powers.

“And now we have ridiculous situation of four Cornish MPs continuing to speak in favour of the proposals during a House of Commons debate - even after the Local Government Minister confirmed that the creation of a single unitary authority for Cornwall was about local government reform and nothing more – while Andrew George tries desperately to distance himself from his colleagues.”

Cllr Cole, who is the also MK’s prospective parliamentary candidate for St Austell and Newquay, added:“It is about time that Cornwall’s Liberal Democrats came clean and admitted that they have let Cornwall down by abandoning their commitment to a Cornish Assembly and that their half-baked proposals for a unitary authority will not lead to the devolution of greater powers.”

CONTACT

Cllr Dick Cole 07791 876607

Further information

1. In November 2001, Liberal Democrats held a Cornwall Conference which agreed to “recommend that the Party campaigns for a devolved and democratically elected Regional Assembly for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.”

2. On 12th December, Cornwall’s four Liberal Democrat MPs (Colin Breed, Andrew George, Matthew Taylor and Paul Tyler) were part of the delegation that presented 50,000 individually signed declarations for a Cornish Assembly to 10 Downing Street. The declaration campaign was a Mebyon Kernow initiative.

3. Liberal Democrats contested the 2005 General Election and Cornwall County Council elections with a Cornish Manifesto which included a commitment to a Cornish Assembly.

4. Upon winning control of Cornwall County Council in 2005, they published a list of priorities that included a pledge to “establish detailed plans for a Cornish Assembly” within their first year of office. The Lib Dems failed to do anything to take forward this pledge.

5. At another conference of Cornish Liberal Democrats in November 2005, they re-affirmed their commitment to the campaign for a Cornish Assembly. In particular, the motion agreed that “any programme of devolution to a Cornish tier of strategic regional government should be a precursor to the resolution of how local government should then be structured.” In his press release to publicise the event Andrew George MP mentioned the possibility of a review of local government and said: “I will make clear that the Government will not get away with their belief that they can fob us off with a rearrangement of deckchairs on the Titanic of local government.”

6. On Thursday 26th October 2006, Ruth Kelly launched a Local Government White Paper, which included the announcement of a “short window of opportunity for a small number of councils to seek unitary status.” The Liberal Democrat County Council immediately jettisoned their commitment to a Cornish Assembly and began to prepare a bid for a single council.

7. In spite of the Lib Dems resolution from November 2005 and earlier commitments to a Cornish Assembly, Andrew George MP made the claim that the White Paper is a “golden opportunity” to create a body to “draw down decision-making power from Government quangos, boards, agencies and other unelected departmental bodies.” Matthew Taylor MP meanwhile claimed that local government reforms would “get some powers back to Cornwall from the South West Region and central government” and speaking on the Politics Programme (29th October 2006), Colin Breed MP made the ridiculous statement that such a new body would be “akin to a Cornish Assembly.”

8. The Liberal Democrats even continued to make the claim that local government reform would lead to devolution after Mr David Prout, the Director of Local Democracy at the Department for Communities and Local Government, addressed a meeting of councillors at County Hall on 9th March 2007. At this meeting, Mr Prout confirmed that a unitary authority would not be able to draw down greater powers from regional and central government, stating that a “unitary authority will be a unitary authority” and that there were “no goodies” on offer.

9. The Liberal Democrats on Cornwall County Council continued with their bid for unitary status even when it was apparent that 80% of local people were opposed to the move as shown by the postal poll carried out by four district councils.

10. The majority of Liberal Democrat MPs refused to oppose the Order to set up the unitary authority, even after it was confirmed by the Local Government Minister John Healey MP that “no specific additional powers are attached to this restructuring to establish a single unitary council.”

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