Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Cornish Constitutional Convention (RG 16)


  1.  Throughout the development of the Government's approach to regional devolution Cornwall has presented a clear, distinctive and constructive proposal for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to be established as a regional unit. In 2001 it presented to Mr Blair an audited 50,000-signature petition calling for the establishment of devolved, democratic, strategic institutions (A Cornish Assembly) to enable Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to:

  2.  Build upon the emerging economic success driven by the Government's support for the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Objective 1 Programme, including providing governance for the newly announced and welcome EU Convergence Programme, and developing new markets building on their unique reputation and brand.

  3.  Configure public service delivery, including local government, health, education and other services, to promote local accountability and efficiency.

  4.  Learn from post-war experience of previous regionalisation initiatives and strategic partnerships, and to manage and develop Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly as an innovative and positive peripheral region.

  5.  During the period 2001-04 a number of surveys showed public support for devolved governance for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly growing from 46% in 2001 (Beaufort) to 55% in 2004 (MORI). This degree of positive support is unique compared with other parts of the Country.


  6.  The Convention is a voluntary cross-party, inclusive association. Its objective is to secure a significant change in the governance institutions for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. It was set up in response to the Government's initiative to establish democratically elected regional assemblies in the existing nine regions. Whilst the Convention has supported the Government in its effort to broker a changed approach to regional governance it has always maintained its position that the nine-region geography is inappropriate and cumbersome. The Convention considers that there is sufficient evidence, covering geography, economic performance, history, culture and marketing, to support the assertion that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly form a natural region of the UK.

  7.  The Convention welcomes the Government's indication that the governance issue should be re-focused. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly offers an opportunity to consider a new, constructive approach, tailored to meet the distinct characteristics of peripherality, with the opportunity to pilot new approaches to public service delivery which can be more effective and efficient.


  8.  Following the NE referendum the Cornish Constitutional Convention published a pamphlet—Devolution's Future[6]—calling for a fresh look at regional geography and acknowledging the developing role of "Core Cities". The pamphlet asked what arrangements might be made to ensure that all parts of the Country had a democratic format for strategic leadership, accountability and delivery set in a regional context. It concluded by proposing that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly could offer an opportunity to develop a pilot.

  9.  The pilot proposal includes establishing a new democratic, strategic and commissioning Body to manage the whole public sector service delivery budget for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. It would map strategy and lead accountability, and accept a duty to promote a productive economy. The proposal includes:

    i.  abolition of the county council (to transform into a more focused, devolved "Body");

    ii.  reform of institutional structure for local service delivery to form two or three delivery-focused, locally accountable bodies;

    iii.  to encourage delegation protocols to town and parish councils;

    iv.  to include Strategic Partnerships;

    v.  adoption of standard accounting, IT systems and monitoring across the service-delivery public sector;

    vi.  integration of strategic processes; and

    vii.  developing and managing relationships with external partnerships, (including other regions and Agencies).

  10.  The current position of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is that the public sector service delivery matrix is confused, fragmented and costly. Different aspects of service are managed from different places by different bodies. Often, their ability to work together is hampered as a result. Where this situation is acute then there is waste and duplication. This is not simply confined to the two-tier local government structure, but also affects education and health, especially where they seek to link up with other services (eg adult care and health), as well as economic development.

  11.  The fragmentation also ensures overly complex and wasteful layers of management of administration:

    —  A local authority CEO asks: "Why do you need eight of me?"

    —  A local patient asks: "Why do we need five health trusts, an Ambulance Trust and a Health Authority which we know nothing about?"

    —  A student asks: "Why does my education involve half a dozen different administrations?"

    —  A businessman asks "Why are there nearly 70 different agencies, organisations and departments trying to help me establish, locate or develop my business?"

  12.  The situation is exacerbated in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly because it is a peripheral region. It is the poorest region in the UK and is an EU Structural Funds programme region (NUTS2). Low wages, low skill base, high deprivation indicators and weak infrastructure are being tackled through the focus of the Objective 1 programme. Productivity (starting from a low base) is healthy, with Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly outperforming the UK economy to a factor of 2:1[7]

  13.  Peripherality is a physical fact—it cannot be overcome but it can be positively managed. Modern communication, for instance, is contributing to economic regeneration. This is attracting a different approach to business and is changing the factors which affect competitiveness. It is important for central institutions to recognise that an intelligent approach to managing a peripheral region will involve a strong degree of local autonomy set within the strategic framework of achieving Government outcomes. It will pay dividends in terms of efficient public services and economic productivity, whereas a larger, broader, less focused and more traditional approach deprives Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, increasing the need for sustained intervention, raising the cost of public services, depleting the ability of Cornwall to generate revenue.

  14.  Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have pioneered the use of communications technology to enable economic success and lessen the impact of peripherality assumptions. This has helped support the distinctive brand (through locally based marketing institutions and the linking of agriculture to production and marketing for example) and the benefits of geographic position: the development of environmental technologies and supporting infrastructure and "know-how" can have a positive influence on economic success and energy supply way beyond Cornwall. There are also opportunities to link evolving education infrastructure to facilitating renewable technologies.

    i.  A recent consultancy to analyse the knowledge economy, commissioned by the SW Regional Assembly as part of its preparation of an "integrated regional strategy", found that, with London as the centre, the knowledge economy "trickled down" motorways. The consultant said that the knowledge economy stopped at Exeter!

    ii.   We asked if building a university, setting up a medical school, the presence of digital media development and creative software companies, and growing commercial research capacity showed signs of a knowledge economy. He agreed. We then pointed out that we were describing Cornwall—off the motorway map, beyond the influence of the Centre, but with a strongly developing knowledge economy—we need a periphery-focused analysis to be understood. He looked confused!

  15.  This Government has led a partnership which has produced a step-change in socio-economic performance in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly over the past decade. It has focused investment and intervention. Arising from this the lesson has emerged that the centre needs to consciously assert a presence in peripheral regions, to counter the economies of scale and the tidal drift of centralisation sapping capacity and dynamism, if it is to achieve parity, cohesion and relative prosperity in places like Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. It is important to understand that the distinctive needs and opportunities of a peripheral region should be intelligently managed. In turn, this will achieve a sustainable, productive economy together with efficient public services.

  16.  Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly wish to promote a new, developmental institutional structure for governance and delivery, building on the lessons learned about intelligently managing this peripheral region, and responding to the national need for efficiency, cost-effectiveness and productivity.


  17.  The success of the present Objective 1 programme has derived partly from the clear focus as a NUTS 2 region, and partly from the intense focus of partnering Action Zone initiatives to address particular problems in particular areas. In many ways the approach mirrors that which would be adopted in regenerating a major city.

  18.  Whilst Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly includes a large component of rurality, it is far more complex than that. Sectoral benchmarking shows that manufacturing, knowledge-based SME's, aspects of niche tourism (eg cultural tourism) and a strong media base all resemble a more metropolitan profile. The scattered settlement pattern and sparse population spread, mixed with the spread of small, economically driving towns, offer a spatial and cosmopolitan enigma which might be characterised as a "distributed city". Cornwall's brand has the potency of a major city and its developing airport at Newquay is reinforcing connectivity with metropolitan culture.

  19.  Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has a very strong sense of identity, which is a world-wide recognition point. This identity is founded upon a multi-layered cultural inheritance which spans at least 5,000 years. The intensity of archaeology, which is uniquely conserved, mingles with the legacy of the industrial era, and is enriched by a strong linguistic, literary and artistic expression. Cornwall, in partnership with the Government, is seeking designation as an "industrial landscape" World Heritage Site. Many regeneration projects are built upon environmental and cultural heritage formats and themes with good economic outputs. The constitutional development of Cornwall—from kingdom to Duchy—evokes much interest and informs the strength of recognition by its growing population with Cornwall as a strategic, democratic and economic unit.

  20.  A recent spatial study examining the role of Cornish towns and the inter-relationships with neighbouring Plymouth shows that the behaviours which underpin the Cornish economy show Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to be a self-contained economic unit.[8] This is borne out by work undertaken in the 1990s by the Plymouth Business School[9] which led to the disaggregation of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly from Devon.


  21.  The SW is the largest regional construct. It is increasingly referred to as a "region of regions"[10] (most famously by Chair of SWRDA, Juliet Williams). The scale of the SW reinforces the peripherality of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The tendency to slip into developing and applying standardised assumptions and strategies for the whole south-west "region" leaves Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly either protesting the need for a distinct approach, or being ill-provided for within a standardised format.[11]

  22.  Efforts to encourage regional funders (eg RDA) to devolve regeneration funding in order to promote accountability, incisive engagement and good monitoring have been stiffly resisted. The advent of a second tranche of Structural Funds (announced Dec 2005) will bring to the fore the need for programme delivery to be administered within the bounds of the Objective 1 region. Such an approach

    maximises the benefit of the programme,

    enhances delivery

    promotes good governance.

  23.  This is not to say that external support, partnership and inward-investment will not be required; it will be gratefully received—it simply means that the regeneration region will be robustly capable of supplying the full range of management and administration required. If you don't run your own regeneration then you will be undermining your ability to adequately manage regeneration following the exit from Structural Funds support.

  24.  Current arrangements also lack any genuine democratic legitimacy. This is not sustainable, and raises fundamental questions about the ability of institutions affecting such a diverse and large zone to gain influence and support amongst the many, diverse communities within the zone. Indeed, the SW is a region of regions, and one of those regions is Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. It does not sit easily or productively in the orthodoxy of a macro-south-west.

  25.  To embed promising economic success and growing social cohesion, and to ensure efficient, productive delivery of public services, and to successfully develop devolved, democratic governance to achieve these outcomes, it is important that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is able to develop its thinking about future governance, to be ambitious and strategic in its approach, and to build on key assets.

  26.  In turn, this would enable the basis of a new partnership, founded on a revised and more equable status quo. It is the contention of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly that a new partnership of regions between a revised SW and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly would enable a stronger and more effective degree of positive cooperation, and would be a practical means of tackling disparities. It would also enable a more diverse range of more broadly based partnerships between regions (not necessarily confined to the UK), promoting trade and drawing in resources to benefit the country as a whole.


  27.  The process of developing a new strategic and commissioning Body for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and the developments needed to succeed, will offer an approach which may provide a model to be applied elsewhere in the Country as the Government moves towards a more variable, responsive and locally tailored approached to devolved governance.

  28.  By approaching devolved governance in a more flexible way, responding to socio/geo-economic characteristics in a more localised way, the Government could take the bold initiative to engage with core-cities and look creatively at other parts of the country in different, tailored ways—Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly offers a discrete opportunity to look at a variable model for devolved governance in the regional context in a strongly branded, developing area not dominated by a metropolitan driver—a "distributed city".

  29.  This opportunity offers a chance to explore new arrangements for service delivery, governance and economic development in addition to, and complementary with the development of city-regions.

  30.  Current arrangements for service delivery in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (which they may commonly share with other remote, peripheral and rural or sparsely populated area) are fragmented, expensive, duplicatory and confusing for the users. They are capable of significant improvement. Improvement will spring from bringing together management, strategic and commissioning functions for the whole service delivery sector under a single, democratic Body focused upon an identifiable regional area. This will involve a strong element of reorganisation and shifting of functions from various quarters, including the existing SW region, but the outcome will achieve efficiency, improvement and productivity.

  31.  There is significant opportunity to devolve functions from the macro-regions, from Government and from a range of national and sub-national agencies. Equally, the need for reform of local government (particularly—but not exclusively—in two-tier areas) can encourage local delegation to the most useful and responsive levels—enhancing the roles of local strategic partnerships and parish and town councils. In building the principle of devolved governance and delivery into every cascade of the public sector it is inevitable that accountability will be enhanced. It may inspire greater public engagement and take-up of services.

  32.  Cornwall has shown a very strong degree of public and institutional support for developing a new, leaner form of democratically elected strategic leadership "Body". The region of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has also shown, through its performance in delivering the Objective 1 Programme, and in its public sector performance (as monitored by the now complex inspection regimes) to be generally working to a very high standard. This suggests that the opportunity exists to build on the strong public sector resources to be more efficient, pro-active and coherent. It also offers the opportunity for the developing, strong regional economy of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to capitalise on, and embed, the very promising levels of productivity growth now emerging, with positive revenue potential for the Exchequer.

6   Devolution's Future. Cornish Constitutional Convention. 2005. Back

7   Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Sectoral Analysis Own Nankivell. Publ: Cornwall LINC 2005. Back

8   Cornwall towns Study. For Cornwall Council (Planning Department) by Roger Tym & Partners. Cornwall. 2004. Back

9   Interpreting Local Conditions J Payne. Pub. Plymouth Business School. 1996. Back

10   Also In Search of Chunky Dunsters. SWRDA Cultural Consortium Study 2001. Back

11   The evolving SW Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) sees Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly demanding that it be treated as a discrete sub-region-a claim borne out by geography, spatial experience and regeneration programming, and supported by Ministers. Nonetheless, the RSS process has ignored Cornish requirements and has proceeded to introduce counter-productive zoning arrangements. This approach has resulted in a spatial approach for Cornwall which is defensive rather than positive. Back

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