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


Memorandum by Cornwall County Council (RG 41)

PREAMBLE

  1.  Cornwall County Council welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this important debate about the future of regional governance. Cornwall "displays many of the strengths of a natural regions1" and with its experience in creating strong partnerships and organising and managing a successful Objective One Programme, offers a model for dynamic "empowered governance" for a peripheral region. Cornwall values the views of the public in shaping the delivery of public services and believes that a new approach, based on devolving powers and responsibilities will improve overall effectiveness.

  2.  The existing arrangement of regional and local government is deeply flawed. The regional tier lacks democratic accountability and resonance with community identity. The structure of local government with its mix of unitary and two tier Councils is complex, confusing and inefficient. Integration with other public services (eg the health sector) is difficult in the present arrangements but is vital to cost effective service delivery and the promotion of social inclusion.

  3.  The attempt to introduce democratically elected regional bodies in the North East was unsuccessful because what was on offer failed to excite the electorate and whose costs appeared to outweigh the limited benefits. In addition, the standard regional model appeared remote to localities.

  4.  The moment has come therefore to consider new and more radical models of governance—empowering local communities with strong collective identity to achieve national, regional and local objectives in a more effective way—achieving greater social cohesion, reducing dependency and driving forward productivity and competitiveness.

  5.  This paper sets out the inadequacies of the present arrangements,identifies principles for achieving devolved local governance and proposesan alternative model based on the strengths of Cornwall as a naturalregion.

THE PRESENT ARRANGEMENTS—AN ANALYSIS

  6.  The present standard regional model fails in a number of fundamentalrespects. Critically there is growing public concern that the Government'sagenda of developing regional structures and initiatives is not matched by a transparent democratic dimension. Public opposition to and disenchantment with regional structures could undermine the Government's objective to ensure that all parts of the UK contribute to the well being of the country as a whole. Further, Government policy is of tenurban focussed and the need to consider effective delivery of public services in rural areas may be overlooked.

  7.  In the South West the present South West Regional Assembly (SWRA)does not have popular support. It is perceived as too far removed fromlocal issues and difficult to influence. The SWRA is not a statutory body; rather, as currently constituted, it is an unincorporated local authorityassociation which has invited representatives from social and economic partners to join in its deliberations and which has certain statutory responsibilities. This gives rise to concerns about the way it is governedand potential liabilities on its constituent members.

  8.  Since the formation of the SWRA in 2000, the Government has set out anagenda which increases the powers of Regional Assemblies to influenceand direct resources. These include the responsibilities for preparing Regional Spatial Strategies, incorporating the Regional Housing Boardwithin the Assembly and influence in the Regional Funding Allocation processes which directs funding for transport, housing and economic development. At the same time we have seen the growth of Regional Development Agencies which are now accountable to Regional Assemblies while performing tasks that actually relate to local regeneration.

  9.  However the current powers of the Assemblies are based on the earlier,but now abandoned proposition that they would become fully elected bodies. In the absence of this there is a significant democratic deficit. This is not sustainable and raises fundamental questions about the ability of such institutions, which affect such large and diverse areas, to gain support and influence over the many communities within the Region.

  10.  Of particular concern is the role of members appointed to the Assembly. Two thirds are elected members appointed by the Councils in the regionplus a system of "topping up" by the political leadership. Members have confusing and conflicting roles. The Assembly see these members as adopting a "regional" role. The Councils see them as representing their individual interests.

  11.  The remaining third of the membership of the Regional Assembly comprises Social Economic and Environmental Partners [SEEPs] appointedby the Assembly for their particular role within the region. These are seen by elected members as having a narrow sectoral interest with no democratic mandate.

PRINCIPLES OF DEVOLUTION TO THE REGIONS

  13.  Cornwall County Council proposes that the following principles should be examined in considering the case for regional devolution:

    (a)  "identity of place"—regions should have a sense of identity; particular characteristics which give a sense of belonging and a rational for collective planning and governance based on proactive community consultation. These may be a mix of geographical, economic,environmental, historical and cultural factors. A strong regionalidentity can be used as a "brand" to assist marketing and improveeconomic competitiveness and to provide a motivational force;

    (b)  "viability"—although not as important as "place", size matters becauseregions should be viable in terms of delivering services etc;

    (c)  "adding value"—regional governance should "add value" to existing structures and systems, driving productivity and social progress; reducing dependency, increasing self sufficiency and contributing to overall national well being;

    (d)  "demand"—regional governance should be demonstrated to have positive support;

    (e)  "fit"—ie within a national framework with a clear and mature relationship with other regions; and with other public sector organisations within Cornwall (eg health);

    (f)  "capacity to deliver"—enabled and empowered to deliver national, regional and local objectives;

    (g)  that the geographical basis on which such devolution should occur should be mirrored through a wide range of public sector, services, unified structures and services in a common geography. The case for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

  14.  Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are distinctive. Their geography,peripherality, environment and culture contribute to a strong sense of place and identity. This distinctiveness is reinforced by differences in the economic circumstances and settlement pattern with the rest of the South West. The economy in terms of GVA and wage levels is clearly poorer than other parts of the South West and the UK. These circumstances have led to the whole of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly being identified as an Objective 1 area for European funding. Cornwall is grateful to theGovernment that, after 2006, it will become a Convergence Region for European structural funds, and will be identified as such in the UK National Strategic Reference Framework.

  15.  Population and employment is widely dispersed across a range ofsettlements. Cornwall has a close relationship with the Isles of Scilly providing the vital transport links. The largest neighbouring city, Plymouth, has an influence relatively confined to a part of South East Cornwall.

  16.  Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is to a considerable extent self-contained in the way it functions, as witnessed by recent studies of functionality at both the regional and local level. Its connections and inter relationships with other parts of the region are not strong. This narrows the scope and type of policy measures at a regional level that can be effective—for example the approach to housing and employment development in other parts of the wider South West can have relatively little influence on levels and distribution of development in Cornwall.

  17.  This does not represent an isolationist view of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly within the wider South West region or beyond; indeed it is the opposite. The links between Plymouth and parts of South East Cornwall are recognised and have been dealt with in joint studies. Strategic policy issues which cross boundaries can be dealt with by a continuation of effective joint working. Further, Cornwall recognises the importance of strategic links across the Region and the importance of "connectivity" between Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the rest of the Region, the UK and the world to its future prosperity. This is reflected in the County'soverarching long-term transport strategy ("Connecting Cornwall-Regeneration through Better Communication") and the vital role of Cornwall Newquay Airport.

  18.  The peripherality of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly cannot be overcome but it can be managed. Modern communication, for instance, is contributing to economic regeneration. This is attracting a different approach to business and is changing the factors which affectcompetitiveness. It is important for central institutions to recognise thatan intelligent approach to managing a peripheral region will involve astrong degree of local autonomy set within the strategic framework ofachieving Government outcomes. Cornwall has pioneered the use ofcommunications technology to enable economic success and lessen the impact of peripherality. Further, the development of environmental technologies and supporting infrastructure and "know-how" can have apositive influence on economic success and energy supply way beyond Cornwall.

  19.  Finally the work underpinning the South West Region's approach to Sustainable Communities as set out in the document "The Way Ahead"2 reinforces the need to focus on Cornwall as a key priority for regeneration if the objective of addressing regional disparity is to be met3. . . Effectivere generation requires community enthusiasm through identity. Good examples include St Just in Pen with where the renaissance of the Cornish Mining heritage into cultural, physical and community capital has transformed the local economy.

CORNWALL: A PROPOSAL FOR REGIONAL DEVOLUTION

  20.  The County Council believes that public sector delivery and strategy shouldbe reformed to result in a single body to provide a strategic overview for the governance of Cornwall and would be most effective if responsibilities from both central and existing regional government were directed to it. Such a devolved approach would seek to bring the wider public sector service delivery under the strategic management of a directly elected body with service delivery undertaken at a community level. This would bring about the most effective deployment of UK government, European and local funding.

  21.  The model of devolved "regional" governance for Cornwall under a singlestrategic body would achieve the following goals:

    —  a stronger vision

    —  stronger strategic leadership

    —  greater ability for neighbourhoods to set local priorities and influence decisions

    —  more accountable local scrutiny

    —  the delivery of better and more cost efficient services

    —  become more "customer" focused.

  22.  The evidence for reducing costs and increasing effectiveness is powerful. In its evidence to the Boundary Commission in 2004 the County Council's Network argued the case for unitary counties on the basis of research looking at both transitional and ongoing savings on costs. Further, that larger strategic authorities can demonstrate considerable benefits in economies of scale. The benefits of a single strategic authority for Cornwall would be:

        Organisational capacity

        A single body covering Cornwall would have the organisational capacity to deal with new or unexpected challenges. The experience of dealing with the requirements of Best Value, political modernisation, the Comprehensive Performance Assessment process and the Gershon efficiency targets are evidence of this.

    Performance monitoring and inspection

    A single body would produce savings in the inspection of local government and its services—through the adoption of standard accounting, IT systems and monitoring across the public sector.

    Provision of specialist services

    Strategic authorities are better placed to operate and maintain specialist services.

    Attracting and retaining quality staff

    A single body would be of a scale able to offer career paths for professional, administrative, technical, operational and managerial staff making stronger cumulative impact on the economy of Cornwall. Further, it would be able to invest in training and development programmes which ensure on going investment in staff at all levels.

    Purchasing power and procurement arrangements

    A single body would have economies of scale which give them greater purchasing power. This capability not only enables them to secure economies and efficiency in purchasing, but also gives them capacity to act as effective clients for contracted services.

    Avoiding the need for joint arrangements

    A single body would be able to sustain specialist functions without the need for joint arrangements.

    Flexibility, responsiveness and enhanced customer focus

    Issues affecting local communities are best dealt with by cross border or joint working. A single body would be able to work across boundaries and enable flexible deployment of resources and expertise to tackle problems wherever they occur. It would be more customer focussed and would reduce confusion in the eyes of customers of who is responsible for services.

    Engaging with the other strategic players

    A single body would have greater capacity to operate inter-regionally and develop and manage external relationships and partnerships. A singlebody would have greater capacity to develop integrated services throughthe establishment of joint service planning and provision.

    Strength and advocacy

    A single body would have greater clout; this means that it would be betterable to represent the concerns of Cornwall's communities in jointarrangements and beyond.

    Reduction in transaction costs

    Delivery of complex public sector activities and targets has to be undertaken in partnership with large numbers of other bodies. By reducing the number of organisations and co-ordinating delivery over thesame geographical area, transaction costs can be substantially reduced.

  23.  In proposing this new model of governance for Cornwall careful consideration will need to be given to the future of local delivery mechanisms. The relationship between towns and their rural hinterlands will be key, and this is not necessarily co-terminus with current district council boundaries. A strategic body as proposed would need to consider how to engage at a local level and to develop devolved service delivery. Cornwall recognises that it is itself a diverse community with different needs; further, that communities in the north of Cornwall and parts ofsouth east Cornwall have strong links with their neighbours. Mechanisms will be required to deal with this. In Cornwall this suggests a proactive model of clustering for rural parishes and more strongly defined roles for key town Councils. A single body would need to consider a dispersal of offices and functions. This offers the opportunity for co-location with parish clusters and stronger town councils.

  24.  However, whatever structure of local delivery is implemented, local communities will have a stronger influence over decisions affecting their area through the devolvement of powers to a democratically elected strategic body.

  25.  Cornwall has demonstrated how it can work together to achieve improved economic prospects and better social cohesion. Cornwall's commitment tostrong partnership working is demonstrated by its selection as a pilot area for the development of Local Area Agreements. In the past effort has been fragmented, and has suffered from institutional peripherality. Today, institutions work collectively in many partnerships across Cornwall.

  26.  In essence, our proposals for a unified geographical structure for the governance of Cornwall follow on from the discussions in 2005 with partners and the then First Secretary of the treasury, John Healey MP. This showed how Cornwall could be both governed and managed more efficiently and effectively by bringing together the key local, regional and central government functions into a structure that would deliver for Cornwall and the UK the Convergence agenda which has been so well articulated by all those with an interest in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The Government has backed Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly with Objective One and this can be taken to the next level by strengthening local accountability and community empowerment. This would be for Cornwall a kind of enhanced local area agreement and demonstrate the potential of this direction of travel.

  27.  Cornwall has demonstrated its relevance to the "city region" debate; notby seeking to create an artificial city, but by recognising the networked nature of its towns to provide sustainable distributed growth. Such a model, based on more dispersed peripheral areas, beyond the significant influence of cities is also required. The approach set out here for Cornwall could act as a model for similar areas or regions.

CONCLUSION

  28.  Cornwall County Council believes there is strong public support for increased powers to a devolved body for Cornwall. 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 to 55% in 2004. This degree of popular support is far higher than in otherparts of the England.

  29.  There are significant savings and efficiencies to be made by bringing together public services in a more co-ordinated strategically focussed way.

    eg  —  bringing together health and social care

—  reducing the number of elected members

—  increasing democratic scrutiny of the wider public sector

—  integrating ICT infrastructure

—  integrating economic development, training and educational agencies

—  reducing confusion to service users.

  30.  The successful management of a peripheral region can reduce dependency and contribute to the overall well being of the UK. Successful regional devolution can provide better co-ordinated, more efficient, accountable public services. The success of the future Convergence Programme will depend on the ability of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to prepare, administer, deliver and close the Programme in an effective way with its many partnerships, Regional devolution to a single body in Cornwall will enable this to happen.

  31.  Cornwall County Council would welcome the opportunity to give oral evidence to the Committee on these issues.

REFERENCES:1    David Milliband. Letter to Bert Biscoe, Cornish Constitutional Convention 7 October 2005.

2    The Way Ahead—Delivering Sustainable Communities in the South West, 2004,

3    Sustainable Communities in the South West—Regional Focus, EKOS Consulting 2004.





 
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