Cornish Constitutional Convention Annual General Meeting 2009
Chairman’s Report November 2009
Last year we took the decision that, in the run-up to the unitary council, it would be prudent to keep a low profile. We did not wish to confuse things, or to get the campaign too entangled in the process.
In the previous year we had succeeded in working with both ‘camps’ – districts and county – as they put together bids for a unitary council. The successful bid, submitted by CCC includes clear statements that the formation of a unitary council is a step along the way towards a Cornish Assembly. The Cornwall (Changes Order) 2009 has required the council to be set up according to the provisions made in the bid. That means that it is built into the strategy for developing the Council that it moves towards a Cornish Assembly. What stands between that provision and achieving it is the political will of the Council.
This is a problematic issue. Mr Lavery, in whom I have confidence and with whom I have an ongoing and constructive dialogue, is quite open in his declaration that we are moving towards the Assembly. The overall membership of the council probably constitutes the strongest body of support for moving forward of any we have seen since we began this campaign.
The Liberal Democrats are now nailing their flag to the Assembly mast. The rank and file of the Conservative back benches is varied but, in the right conditions and with clear encouragement, it stands to be persuaded. Some of the leading Independents are also leading advocates for the Assembly. And, there is, for the first time, a Mebyon Kernow group, which is establishing itself strongly despite its small numbers. This is especially the case with its Leader, Dick Cole.
The Conservative Party is reconciled to the devolved parliaments and assemblies, and is keen to see powers devolved to more local levels. It remains to be seen the extent to which the next Government, whether it be Labour, Conservative or a coalition including the Liberal Democrats, with the possibility of a Mebyon Kernow member somewhere on the green benches, will embrace further devolution. Economic conditions are not favourable.
However, the twin drivers of climate change and new technologies are influencing social trends. The recent success of the Sustainable Communities Act, both in becoming law, and in attracting as much as the LGA can cope with in terms of new ideas, is evidence that the demand for local accountability, and for local democratic authority over public services and strategy is gaining ground.
30,000 people marched through Hayle in a demand for democratic accountability in Cornwall for the development and management of the health service. Recent clashes over high level interventions such as critical cancer treatments highlight two contrasting views of how the health service should develop in Cornwall. The situation is itself becoming critical.
If we do not stand and fight for our health services to be delivered in Cornwall, for Cornwall at standards that ensure that Cornish people get equal standards of service without being required to travel long distances that foster hardship and encourage further ill health, then we will see the thin edge of Ann James’ wedge grow thicker and thicker. Cornwall will be placed at a serious and unjust disadvantage.
We must ask ourselves what we mean in practice when we call for our Assembly. What will it do?
Taking Wales as a model, we can assert that, it will provide over-arching strategic guidance for local government services; it will take on strategic leadership in the fields of transport, planning, economic development, housing and climate change-driven policies relating to energy, waste, agriculture and communications, and cultural development; it will also embody the democratically accountable management and leadership of the Health Service in Cornwall.
In this last aspect Mr Lavery is quite clear – we want to put ourselves in a position as quickly as possible to move forward on the realignment of health service priorities in Cornwall. This is a key objective. It is complex and requires winning the confidence of the government (whoever that may be). But, the tide of events is with us.
The hierarchical, Ministry managed health edifice is crumbling – in Cornwall this is literally true. One of the key decisions that must be made soon is what to do about the main tower block at Treliske. It is for the new Council and the Cornish public to force this issue into including the expensively clumsy situation of having one PCT and three acute trusts, and only one district general hospital in a peripheral region with over 500,000 people and a summer population rising to over 1 million at any one time.
We need two district general hospitals – one in the west – Hayle, perhaps! – and one in the East – Bodmin, surely! We also need a centre for high level acute interventions which has high levels of specialist investment to ensure that Cornish citizens are able to reasonably access an equable quality of service to that enjoyed in, say, Berkshire, Yorkshire or Wales.
The Convention has published a new pamphlet which sets out two key thoughts –
one – that we should now build our assembly from the strong platform of a successful unitary council, and
two – that, in doing so, we will cause the least disruption to democratic structures whilst improving local accountability by re-democratising a tier of delivery-focused local Government.
We will incorporate in the Assembly not simply the strategic issues of local government, but also a Cornish Health Authority, and possibly a Cornish Police Authority (or, at least, a democratic accountability forum for the Police in Cornwall).
We have come to the point where these are election issues between the mainstream parties. We have come to the point where the new Council is on a journey towards delivery of the assembly. We have come to the point where, as David Whalley, former Leader of Cornwall County Council, said to us three years ago at our AGM:
‘There is an inevitability about the journey towards the Cornish Assembly’.
So, I am, as usual, optimistic, and I believe that we can be assured that we have, yet again, made progress towards our goal. We are not engaged in a high profile public campaign because it is important to match public expectations to what is practicably achievable.
The Cornish Assembly is now the mainstream issue in forward-moving Cornish politics. It is one of those developments that officials and government now assume will happen. It remains up to us to make it happen – but we are now operating in a much more constructive environment.
It is, as I have always stressed, a long term campaign which will have ups and downs – and, most of all, it needs faith, self-belief and a cheerful, intelligent disposition. Onwards!