Last week, the Westminster government announced the creation of five new unitary authorities, which means in plain language that the district councils, standing below the county councils, are to be abolished. This includes Cornwall, where the Liberal Democrat leadership of the “county council” put in a bid for unitary status and got it approved by London.
The interesting thing here is that the Cornish Lib Dems are formally in favour of devolution, and have been for many years. As Mebyon Kernow leader Cllr Dick Cole points out, devolution was a cornerstone of the Lib Dems’ successful bid to win control of Cornwall Council in 2005. But pressing Westminster to surrender powers might have taken the Lib Dems out of their comfort zone, so what we have instead is a neat little bit of spin. Cornwall Council will indeed accrue extra powers – those of the existing district councils. It certainly won’t be taking powers off Westminster, not if central government can help it.
This really is pretty shabby, and it’s to be hoped that there is a serious mobilisation for a better deal. It’s quite recently that the district councils of Somerset organised a successful referendum to thwart the plans of the Lib Dem-controlled county council to turn Somerset into a unitary authority. It should be quite possible to organise something similar in Cornwall. The people may or may not want a Senedh Kernow with legislative powers, but at least they should be allowed to express a view.