Devolution Deal: the pitfalls


A leading academic has warned that the consultation period for Cornwall’s Devolution Deal could generate “more heat than light, and that would be bad for all of us”.

A formal offer for handing more power to Cornwall was made by the Government last month. But a prerequisite of the deal would be to have a locally-elected Mayor, who would lead Cornwall Council.

The Government says the Mayor would have greater control over transport budgets, building and skills delivery.

Critics, however, oppose the concept of concentrating power in the hands of a single, directly-elected leader. A ten-week consultation period is due to begin on Friday (Dec 9).

Dr Joanie Willett from the University of Exeter isn’t convinced a Mayor for Cornwall is the right way forward.

She said: “It looks like we are going to have to agree to a Mayor for Cornwall if we are to get the latest offer of a Devolution Deal for Cornwall. Supporters of a Mayor point to how it will (might) give us greater leadership, and that the Devolution deal, timid though it is, should be seen as a stepping stone to greater things. However, the ‘devolution’ that is being offered amounts to a few decisions about how to allocate some decisions that have already been made by central government.

“What we are not being offered is any ability to make our own rules about the policy areas that matter to us. Further, any new Mayor will only be able to offer this enhanced visibility, if they have a talent and skill for getting and maintaining the public eye. How many of the ten Mayors beyond Manchester’s Andy Burnham and London’s Sadiq Khan can you name?

“We cannot take it as a given that a Cornish Mayor will increase our profile in the way that we would like them to. Our original Devolution Deal was in 2015, over seven years ago. It has taken seven years to get an extension on our deal, whereas seven other ‘devolved’ regions have had one, or even two or three extensions over the lifetime of their deals.

“Cornwall’s record is not great at pushing for this. I’m not saying that a Mayor, or this Devo deal, is intrinsically ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But we do need to spend the consultation period looking at it really critically, and not being afraid to ask difficult questions. The danger is that the consultation will generate more heat than light, and that would be bad for all of us.”