14 December 2009

The Walker review of water charges, which I discussed the other day, leads me to questions about devolution.

Last month the team of Cornwall Libdem MPs responded to the queen’s speech — the Labour government’s program for the next six months — by suggesting a list of three measures that they think are needed urgently for Cornwall. The list comprised a devolution bill, second homes, and the equalisation of water charges.

Rogerson writes (presumably on behalf of the team) of wanting “radical devolution of power to Cornwall” and ensuring “the whole country pays its fair share for maintaining the coastline.”

The issue of the water bills of course applies to all the area of South West Water, as the Libdem MPs acknowledge, but the issue of water bills and devolution applies only to Cornwall.

Pick and mix

Let me point out again a dissonance here. The recent Cornwall devolution bill did not involve fiscal devolution but Barnett-type arrangements as far as I can see and now the Libdems seem to be saying that they want far-reaching devolutionary powers for Cornwall but when it comes to meeting the cost of Cornwall’s water bills they want to be part of “the whole country”. Apparently in a Liberal Democrat devolved Cornwall the full cost and payment for Cornish water and sewerage and beaches and clean-up is not to be the responsibility of only the people in Cornwall. This is an odd and unconvincing devolution. It looks to me like devolution with Cornwall half out of the country but jumping back to be wholly in the country for water bills. This is a pick-and-mix devolution, a hokey-kokey devolution, in, out, in, out.


There is another quirk in this. The coastline, for sewerage disposal and clean-up purposes at any rate, is the beaches, cliffs, and adjacent sea and definitely includes the foreshore, the part between high and low tide. Look at the argument for some sharing over the “whole country” of these Cornwall bills, look at the various Libdem descriptions of the the beaches of Cornwall as a “national asset” and a “national treasure” and of the Cornwall coastline as “Britain’s coastline”. Isn’t all this a recognition by the Libdems that the coastline of Cornwall (including the foreshore) is part of the whole country and not just a peculiar of Cornwall or the duchy? Oh dear, what do the foreshore nationalists say? I’d like to hear the nationalist argument for someone in Newcastle on Tyne, England paying towards a clean up of territory in Cornwall which belongs not to the whole country but to what those nationalists see as the sovereign duchy of Cornwall.

(Incidentally, “the whole country” of the Libdems is not identified. The Anna Walker inquiry into water charges covers England and Wales; Scottish Water is publicly owned as is the service in Northern Ireland. So country could mean England and Wales or England or the UK.)