WHO IS RIGHT IN PENWITH DISPUTES?

15 July 2007

Andrew George, the Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives and the Scillies, has been criticised recently for continuing to support a unitary council though 89 percent of people in Penwith (basically the mainland part of the constituency) opposed the proposals in a council poll. The latest salvo is a letter in this week’s Cornishman from a Penwith district councillor describing his view that a unitary council would (or is it could) be functionally equivalent to a devolved Cornish Assembly as “utter rubbish.” That is too harsh. As I have explained, the unitary Libdems believe a unitary council could gain extra powers; there is nothing that I would call evidence that backs their view, the government has not come out and said aloud that extra powers are on offer, and the Mebyon Kernow party has produced evidence that they are not; but the Libdem view – hope, plan – is not irrational. See this post from March.

The government will shortly accept or reject the unitary proposals. If it accepts them, we shall then see who is right about drawing down extra powers; if it rejects them, we shall presumably never know.

There is another dispute. George has challenged the optimism of hospital campaigners about the soon-to-be-published plans for West Cornwall hospital in Penzance and he fears that there are plans afoot for “the most significant single downgrading” of the hospital and that claims of victory in a campaign to protect the services of the hospital are premature. He details his concerns: see here. His concerns appear to be shared by a leader of West Cornwall Healthwatch, a local lobby.

A statement from the chief executive of Cornwall primary care trust, Ann James, criticises him very strongly indeed. She says, “Mr George’s suggestion that we will let down our local communities is completely unfounded. Once again, rather than speaking to us directly about his concerns, Mr George has chosen to go to the media about a meeting he did not actually attend and which he has reported on totally inaccurately. We believe this is at best irresponsible.”

“Totally inaccurately” and “irresponsible” are vigorous charges. When the trust puts out the details of its proposals for West Cornwall hospital next week we shall be better able to judge who is right.

So there are two local items awaiting imminent resolution and the MP has taken a decided and contested view on both.

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