15 March 2007

The government has given councils the chance to suggest changes to the present arrangements for local government. Cornwall county council, controlled by Liberal Democrats, has proposed a unitary council for Cornwall, replacing the county and district councils; most of the district councils have proposed an alternative scheme.

Much play was made by the county Liberal Democrats about a Cornwall unitary council being able to draw down additional powers from the regional authorities such as the development agency and NHS boards. Cornwall Liberal Democrat MPs supported the unitary proposals and the consequent taking back of powers from regional bodies; for example here. The unitary council of these county proposals would, it seemed to some, be pretty much a regional assembly in all but name.

Mebyon Kernow said that drawing down was not on offer.

Who was right?

Now there is an item on the Mebyon Kernow website about a meeting at county hall on 9 March 2007 with a government representative. Dick Cole, the MK leader, asked him directly about the proposed unitary council drawing down extra powers. The representative said, equally directly apparently, that there was no question of it; a unitary council was just that, no extra powers were available.

That is very clear. A key plank in the Liberal Democrat unitary scheme, the very reason for it perhaps, has been blown away. Will the Liberal Democrats explain how they got it wrong or withdraw their unitary proposal which MK has said is based on a “false premise”?

However, perhaps all is not what it seems. If a unitary council were established, it would be able to press continually for additional powers. Over time it might well succeed for decentralisation looks like a trend and no present arrangement is likely to last unchanged. No extra powers are on offer now but that does not mean they will not be in the future.

MK seems to be saying, devolution and no half measures. That has clarity. But perhaps it would be wiser to accept a half measure now so that one is better placed to get more later. The Liberal Democrats might have the last laugh.

Now see this updated post of April 14.