The Leader of Cornwall Council has criticised people who opposed plans for a Mayor for Cornwall who “didn’t have an open mind” after agreeing to ditch the proposals. Cornwall Council’s Cabinet formally agreed today to abandon plans to secure a Level 3 devolution deal which would have required a directly elected mayor.
Council leader Linda Taylor said that the “regretful” decision to abandon the plans was made after a public consultation found 69% of people were opposed to the proposal. At an extraordinary meeting of the Cabinet this morning she said that whilst there was considerable support for more devolution there was “serious concern” about the need for an elected mayor.
She said that whilst a representative survey commissioned by the council found that 65% of people were in favour of the deal and a mayor she had conceded that it would be better to abandon the proposals. “I accept there is significant concern about the requirement to move to a directly elected mayor, hence the statement that I made yesterday (announcing the plans to drop the proposals).”
Cllr Taylor defended the consultation process and said that it had been independently assessed and found to be “robust, thorough and meaningful” and that it met the requirements for good practice. She also highlighted the responses from young people, business leaders and strategic partners had all been in favour of the deal and having a directly elected mayor.
However, she was critical of groups which she said had not had an open mind about the process and had indicated their opposition to the plans before the proposed deal had even been published. She singled out town and parish councils which had submitted letters to the council saying they opposed the plans before they were published which she said was “astonishing”.
She said that there had been “vile and hostile” remarks made by people opposed to the plans and said that the Conservative administration did not want to “deny future generations” the opportunity to pursue further devolution or achieve their ambitions.
Cllr Taylor added: “Those loud speakers who didn’t have an open mind, those loud voices who didn’t want to look at the detail of the need to look at their children and grandchildren and reflect now on their decision and at least this Cabinet has been brave enough to not allow Cornwall to be left out of any future negotiations. At the end of the day we have to leave a better place for our children and grandchildren. It is regretful.”
At the meeting Cllr Taylor read out a letter which had been sent by Levelling Up minister which indicated that the department would be willing to work with the council to negotiate a Level 2 devolution deal which would not require an elected mayor. It was made clear that a proposed £360million mayoral investment fund would only have been available under a Level 3 deal.
Cllr Taylor said that the council would be “working swiftly to negotiate a deal for Cornwall” and that work had already started. It is anticipated that details of the new deal would be made available to councillors in September.
Colin Martin, acting leader of the Liberal Democrat group at County Hall, challenged Cllr Taylor on the decision to drop the plans and asked whether her hand had been forced by backbench members of her own party who were against the plans. He asked: “Are your backbenchers preventing you from doing what you think is best for Cornwall?”
Cllr Taylor said that the Conservative group was supportive of the decision not to pursue a Level 3 deal but said that that decision had been taken due to the results of the public consultation.
Labour group leader Jayne Kirkham highlighted that the Labour Party had indicated that if it wins the next General Election they would not require areas to have an elected mayor to secure devolution deals like the Level 3 one which had been proposed. This was echoed by independent councillor Tim Dwelly who said that the council should be working on plans how they would approach a Labour government to secure such a deal.
Cllr Taylor replied saying: “This Cabinet and leadership and administration deal with what is in front of us, we don’t have a crystal ball.”
She added: “This Cabinet is dealing with a Conservative government, we don’t have a crystal ball, we can’t see what will happen in the future. We are committed to providing services for the people of Cornwall and committed to delivering on the manifesto promises we made. We are not here to second guess what may happen in the future.
“We will keep an open mind and are absolutely happy to talk and negotiate with anyone who wants to deliver the right things for Cornwall.”
The Cabinet voted unanimously in favour of no longer pursuing a Level 3 devolution deal with an elected mayor and to instead negotiate a Level 2 deal with the Government.