Redruth fails to warm to County Hall’s campaign for a mayor

Posted By on 22nd January 2023

By Richard Whitehouse

On a dark, cold January evening a public meeting to discuss Cornwall’s new devolution deal and whether we should have an elected mayor was always going to be a hard sell.  And so it proved as I took my place along with 19 other hardy souls at Redruth Community Centre.

In the sparsely populated hall we were faced by five council staff and leader of the council Linda Taylor who was full of apologies as she arrived a few minutes late.  Also in the audience was local Labour Cornwall councillor Stephen Barnes, keen to raise some points on the “big deal” being presented to the people of Cornwall.

Look around bus stops around Cornwall which are plastered with the pronouncements – part of a publicity drive costing a rumoured £60,000 – that “It’s a big deal for Cornwall” and encouraging people to get involved with the public consultation being carried out about this new devolution deal from the government.

The deal is offering a Level 3 devolution for Cornwall but comes with the proviso that we also change our system of governance and have a directly elected mayor.  Benefits of the deal will include £360million for a Cornwall Investment Fund over 30 years and up to £10m for a three-year innovation programme.

Cornwall would also have control over its adult education budget, an extra £8.7m to support housebuilding on brownfield sites and £500,000 for transport schemes.  There would also be £3m of capital funding for heritage schemes and £500,000 to “support Cornish distinctiveness.”

Those at the Redruth meeting questioned whether it was a “big deal” and whether these benefits should be provided without changing Cornwall’s governance.  Several highlighted that the investment fund only equates to £12m a year and would not be linked to inflation so by the end of the 30-year programme would likely to be worth less.

Others in the audience at the community centre questioned why there was consultation taking place at all and why the council was not just holding a referendum on whether the people of Cornwall want a mayor at all.

Cllr Taylor insisted that the consultation was “incredibly important” that the council wants to “go out to as many people as possible” and “encourage everybody to have their say.”  She added that the council was “working really hard” to try and make people understand the deal.

Cllr Barnes accused the council leader of “running scared of a referendum” and said that when asking people’s views on the deal “all I have ever heard is what a load of rubbish.”

In response to questions Cllr Taylor reiterated that she had gone to the government to ask for a Level 3 deal without an elected mayor but that this request had been denied. But she said that since then: “I am now very, very positive about the way forward.”

Asked whether a mayor was best for Cornwall Cllr Taylor then highlighted the benefits that metropolitan mayors such as Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and Andy Street in the West Midlands have had for their areas.

However, these are not comparable to Cornwall as they do not sit at the head of a unitary council and instead oversee a number of local authorities, something which would not happen in Cornwall.

One member of the audience said that there were more important things in Cornwall than the devolution deal. “If you go out now and talk to people in Cornwall all this,” he said waving his hands in front of him, “is insignificant.”

He added: “They are worried about ambulances up at Treliske, they are worried about social care.” And he then added that “sadly I have read the deal, not just the pretty pictures, I have read all 124 paragraphs” and said that there was nothing in there that will address the current issues in Cornwall. “It doesn’t address the key issues that the people of Cornwall are facing,” he added.

Cllr Taylor did not address the point directly and highlighted again the £360m being offered as part of the deal. She said: “If we don’t accept the deal we will lose that funding and it could affect further funding. There are a lot of other authorities out there who are ambitious to have a devolution deal. The government will work with ambitious authorities. I can’t bear the thought that we will say to the government ‘we don’t want your £360m thank you very much’. The government will work with those other authorities. I find it a compliment that the government has come to Cornwall and said they want to help us to achieve our ambitions.”

After just over an hour of discussion and questions about the devolution deal and a mayor for Cornwall it was time to go back outside where the temperature was probably as chilly as the reception the audience in Redruth had towards the proposals.

  • To take part in the consultation about the devolution plans and find out more go to letstalk.cornwall.gov.uk/bigdeal or to access a paper copy of the questionnaire call 0300 1231 118. The consultation closes on February 17, 2023.
  • Further consultation events are planned, all start at 6.30pm –  Newquay Tretherras School, Jan 23; New County Hall, Truro, Jan 24; Torpoint Town Hall, Jan 25; Saltash Guildhall, Jan 26; Falmouth Maritime Museum, Jan 27; St John’s Hall, Penzance, Jan 30; Falcon Hotel, Bude, Feb 6; Launceston Town Hall, Feb 7