Setting Cornwall Free – article by Cllr Jeremy Rowe and Nick Clegg MP

Too often governments have seen this part of the country as little more than a theme park for lazy summer holidays. But over the last five years Cornwall has finally had a strong voice in Government. Liberal Democrat MPs and Ministers have been relentless in fighting Cornwall’s corner, arguing every day for fairer funding and for more power to be wrested out of Westminster. Even securing funding to support Cornish language and culture.

With Liberal Democrat Ministers and local political leaders working together, we have seen £60m devolved to Cornwall to drive local growth, with £150m more coming from local partners and the private sector. That money has been put to great use, investing in the regular Newquay Airport link to Gatwick, bringing fast broadband to almost every corner of Cornwall, and supporting over 2000 businesses.

But we want to do more, which is why today we set out how Liberal Democrats would go further and faster toward a stronger, more powerful Cornwall. In the next Parliament, Lib Dems would deliver a new law – a Devolution Enabling Act – which will enable Cornwall to take legislative power into a Cornish Assembly much like that in Wales.

It could mean more power for representatives in Cornwall to improve areas such as housing, health care, education and public transport. Cornwall could choose to have different rules to England on a whole range of policy areas like academy schools, health service spending, right-to-buy, second home ownership and bus services.

We know Cornwall is just as capable of taking on these new powers as the big cities of London, Manchester and Sheffield. It is precisely because the needs and priorities of a rural, sparsely populated peninsula are so different to those of conurbations that devolution is so vital. With house prices here among the highest in the UK, and wages among the lowest; with 70% of Cornish residents living outside the main towns; and when 15 times as many bus journeys are made per head in London than in Cornwall, it’s easy to see how one size fits all decisions in Westminster and Whitehall might not always work here.

When the Cornish Assembly is born, it would be up to those who are elected to shape Cornwall’s destiny. But we want to give a few examples of what we think it might achieve. Cornwall could alter right-to-buy, keeping back vital homes for 29,000 people waiting on the local housing list. We could change planning law and Council Tax so buying up second homes in Cornwall comes with a greater price. And Cornwall could blaze a trail, integrating local NHS services and funding with the social care which people rely on all year round – that alone could save millions of pounds and improve thousands of lives.

The Conservative excuse to stop Cornwall taking the power to make these changes is that an Assembly would mean ‘more politicians’. They’re simply wrong. There is no reason that an Assembly cannot be formed out of the existing Cornwall Council. If Scotland can manage with 129 MSPs for 5 million people, then nobody can sensibly argue Cornwall needs more than 123 representatives. Indeed, if local leaders in Cornwall choose it the Assembly could be smaller than the existing Council. Such a decision could free up valuable resources for parishes and towns, in turn bringing power even closer to local communities. This we call ‘double devolution’.

A central mission for the Liberal Democrats in government has been to secure a strong economy, and build a fairer society. We’ve made a start with the great package of funding we secured for Cornwall. But to build an even fairer society, Cornwall needs the power to make sure a young person can get into town without a car; that a new family can find somewhere to live in the area they grew up in; and that our ageing population gets the seamless care they deserve.

At the coming election, there’s a clear choice across Cornwall. The crushing prospect of an all-Conservative Government, jealously guarding every available lever of power in Whitehall and forgetting Cornwall along the way. Or Liberal Democrats back in Government, fighting your corner, and giving a real chance for Cornwall to take control of its own future.

This article was published in the Cornish press on St Piran’s Day 2015.  It is co-authored by Cllr Jeremy Rowe, Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Cornwall Council & Rt Hon. Nick Clegg MP, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the UK Liberal Democrats.

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