25 July 2007

The government has decided that Cornwall will have a unitary council.

As I have pointed out in several posts a large majority of people in Cornwall who voted were against the unitary proposals of the county council. Whatever one thinks about how local government in Cornwall should be reorganised, this government decision is impossible to reconcile with the expressed views of people here. It is impossible to reconcile with the government’s own requirement for unitary proposals to succeed as set out in its letter to local authorities of 26 October 2006: “it will be necessary for any proposal to have support from a range of key partners, stakeholders and service users/citizens” (paragraph 3.5). Well, 81 percent of citizens voting against in the district polls is not support. In its approval statement of several unitary proposals the government referred to promised savings and they presumably outweighed any votes. In truth, the government conducted the reorganisation project on the basis of consulting the providers and only nodded unconvincingly to the users, the people, thus abandoning the Thatcher principle of the customer matters.

The government has treated local people with contempt, as people whose views are irrelevant and can be disregarded. This is likely to further alienate some people in Cornwall from government and politics. Why vote, the government always wins; why vote, if most votes are ignored?

The reorganisation of local government in Cornwall is not urgent. It is one of those issues where a big conversation between government and people is appropriate, where government should take time to try to convince people of the sense of a unitary council if they believe that council is the best way forward, take time to talk to people and listen to people, and take time to explore all the arguments. To ride roughshod over people’s views after a few weeks, however much the government may think those views uninformed or unwise, is not going to persuade people that democracy is flourishing. The new council will begin overshadowed by a lack of democratic legitimacy. It is not the people’s choice.