DURING my broadcasting career I have often been invited to lend support to a number of charities and other good causes.
For instance I am President of Hospital Radio in Truro. It’s where my career started and so I have been delighted to play a small role in supporting them all these years later.
I am also President of the Tamar Valley Male Voice Choir. A wonderful group who take great pride in their singing and raising money for charity.
I have even been President of the Devonshire Association. As a proud Cornishman I took some delight in reminding my Devon- born wife that I was once president of Devon, well sort of.
Now I am wondering if I should take it a step further and try to become mayor of Cornwall.
You may have seen or heard that Cornwall is being offered the chance to have more powers devolved to it from Westminster.
The chances are though that you haven’t taken much notice of this. After all, there are far too many daily worries about the cost of living and just surviving at the moment. But if Cornwall decides to take on these additional devolved powers, the county has been told it must also have an elected mayor.
You may be thinking another tier of politics is the last thing we need. But supporters of the idea point out that a mayor would simply replace the existing council leader and cabinet.
There’s even the promise of transition funds to help pay for any extra costs incurred by creating the post. Although that’s still public money whichever pot it comes from.
Critics of the idea point out that the extra devolved powers don’t amount to much more than we currently have and it doesn’t bring a great deal of extra money with it.
According to the Council and the Government, it would provide additional investment of £360 million, but over 30 years. A consultation on the proposals has just finished and I, for one, will be very keen to hear how many people took the time to have their say.
We have some brilliant journalists in Cornwall, especially working on our local newspapers, and I am sure they will be holding the Council to account over the outcome of the consultation.
This is important because apparently the feedback from the public will help inform the final decision. But how much do the vast majority of us really care?
We care about the bins being emptied. We care about the state of the roads. We care about many of the services the council provides, but do we care much about the council structure and who makes the decisions?
Do you even know the name of your local councillor?
One thing many of us do care about is the amount we have to pay for council services. That hefty bill will be thudding on to the doormat again soon and it’s looking like we’ll be paying 5% more than last year.
The bill never goes down, yet the Council never has enough money. It takes more from us every year, but is always having to make cuts.
Part of the crisis in the NHS is down to the fact councils haven’t got enough money to
provide care packages. So will a mayor make a difference to that? Promising to cut council tax bills would be a possible vote winner, but it would potentially leave the council with even less money to spend, so it’s probably a non-starter.
I can remember when the district councils were scrapped in favour of the single unitary
authority of Cornwall Council. On the face of it the idea seemed to make some sense.
Why were all these functions being repeated in large district council offices across the county when it could all be done more cost effectively from County Hall?
But I am not sure it made much difference. Our bins are still collected; it’s just Cornwall Council instead of the old Caradon Council, and has it saved much money? We’ll never really know, but the Council Tax bills keep on rising and the services keep on being cut, so what did we really gain?
Don’t forget, if this devolution idea goes ahead and Cornwall gets a mayor in charge of the council, we’d still have a chief executive, professional officers and their staff actually delivering the services.
Perhaps a better option is to do away with the councillors and the chief executive. The mayor could assume the executive leadership role and be held to account by a scrutiny panel made up of a representative elected from each of the districts of Cornwall. That would slash council costs a bit and the time spent in lengthy debates.
I know the councillors set the strategy and the budget, but in the end couldn’t that just be done by executives and the professional finance officers, with the mayor and the scrutiny panel ultimately accountable to us?
I may be wrong. Perhaps there is a lot more interest in local government structures than I think. But I can remember the reaction when the role of a Police and Crime Commissioner was proposed.
It went from apathy to: “why do we need another expensive person when we already have the Chief Constable?”
It was all about accountability; making sure there was a highly visible elected figure ensuring the police were doing what the public asked.
During my time on BBC Spotlight I had several run-ins with the first incumbent in the role. In one lively exchange I remember asking him to justify extra spending on civilian staff for his office. I suggested the public would probably prefer the money be spent on police officers.
He struggled to answer and he and his team were not best pleased with me!
I even went out on the streets of Camborne with the Police Commissioner to see how many people knew who he was and what he did. Needless to say there were not many.
The current commissioner has a better profile I think, but according to the BBC News website she was elected on a turnout of just over 37% in 2021. It’s hardly a ringing endorsement.
It’ll be very interesting to see how many of us have got involved in the consultation process for extra devolved powers and a mayor; and very interesting to see if there was sufficient approval to justify taking the idea forward.
On balance, I won’t be throwing my hat in the ring for mayor. I will stick to being President of a choir
and hospital radio, much less controversial. At least I hope so!
Bye for now.