How is Governance Working in Cornwall? What happens now? What should it look like?

Governance means how we are governed.

How are we governed now? What should  Cornwall’s local government look like and how should it operate?

council-chamber

In the latest of a series of articles about Cornwall’s governance CS investigates what’s being said at Lys Kernow (County Hall) on the future of local government structure in the Duchy.

An independent Governance Review External Group (GREG) has been brought in by Cornwall Council to answer “how is governance working in Cornwall today and what should governance should look like in 2021 to help Cornwall achieve its ambitions?”. The process involved interviews with many different groups, including Cornwall for Change (C4C), who are delighted to support both the observations of the GREG and the fundamental changes that are proposed. Their suggestions include a demand for an overarching strategic vision for Cornwall behind which people across all sectors can unite.

Since the formation of C4C, which represents over 70 town and parish councils, the group has repeatedly pleaded for Ethical Governance and a genuine democratically formed vision for Cornwall.
The GREG report found that Cornwall Council needs to “engage partners more intensively and creatively from the outset.” and whilst it recognized that elected Members had a genuine desire to do the very best for Cornwall and its local wards, that there are “deficiencies in working relationships with local communities.” It also “observed deep rooted opinions that the Council does not care about its communities, that it makes decisions in its best interests rather than for the wider good, and perceptions that the Council takes the side of developers over communities.”

The report noted that the consensus is “People feel ‘done to’ rather than ‘with’” and went on to insist that a change of culture is needed, as well as a change of strategy.

“We are relieved that the GREG has so strongly declared the obvious signs of weakness in Cornwall Council that have so damaged public trust.” says Orlando Kimber, a spokesman for C4C.“ We all believe that great improvements can be made if the Council were to stand up for the people of Cornwall as a whole, rather than bow to pressure from Westminster; particularly in regard to the strong-arm tactics that support large scale property development and minimal investment into infrastructure. We can achieve this if we work together, but the Council must begin by listening to those town and parish councils who themselves are truly involved with their constituents. This is not an impossible task and we are here to help the Council make these much-needed changes efficiently.”

Finally, the GREG report concluded that Cornwall does not need a mayor “but a strong leader in the cabinet” who would develop an honest and credible vision, strategy and plans.
Jacqui McKinlay, Chair of GREG added: “It’s a sign of maturity that a council is prepared to invite four genuinely independent-minded people in and to let us loose asking all interested parties to come forward and share their views. Our report will, I’m sure, reinforce many things that are widely known, even if some of our messages may be difficult to hear.”

That response (all of the above) by C4C was issued several months ago, and since then the discussions about the governance of Cornwall have continued. They’ve continued endlessly without focus say critics of the process, including the Tory group and in particular councillor Fiona Ferguson.  However the council leaders have said that as this is a huge question, they should be allowed time to come up with the right answers.

To help them arrive at that point, the council has surveyed current councillors about their experience as a councillor and have asked their opinion in a 36 question document seen by CS. Highlights below.

The answers given are genuine but for obvious reasons we will keep the quotes anonymous.

Leadership: what’s best for Cornwall? A mayor, a committee system, or what we’ve got now, a cabinet and executive?

As mentioned the GREG report suggests to reject a Mayor and stick with the current system. The councillors agree with them and in our recent CS poll, you the people of Cornwall, overwhemingly rejected the question “Would you like to see a London-style ‘Mayor Of Cornwall’ who has more powers?”. 79% of respondents said no.

The councillors mention that “the Mayoral system does not have public confidence, the leader and cabinet system allows the public to identify individuals responsible for the Council’s work”

Adding a caveat to the current system one councillor asks “How much of it’s success is because of the personality of the current leader?”

How many portfolios should there be? (currently 10)

A portfolio is the name given to an area of responsibility. Like a government minister for eg the environment, in Cornwall our mini version would be called the Portfolio Holder for the Environment. These 10 ‘Portfolio Holders” including the Leader make up “the cabinet” of Cornwall. Seats at the cabinet (and indeed on the committees) are designated by proportionally according to how many seats a particular party has in the whole council. Currently we have a Independent / Lib Dem coalition. John Pollard, the leader, is an independent.

“I cannot see how a council covering a population of 540,000 could operate with less than ten”

“Ten are not needed, if the balance of workload is fairly spread then maybe 7-8 could do the work. At the moment the workload is not evenly balanced”

“All services have to be covered so if we have fewer they will have to bigger”

Do leadership and portfolio roles need to be paid full time roles?

All councillors currently get an allowance of £12,249 plus expenses with add ons for responsibility, eg a Committee chair gets an extra £6,060 and a portfolio holder and an extra £15, 150. The leader John Pollard gets an extra £20,200, so with expenses was paid £36, 199 last year for his services to the council.

“Not all portfolios are full time”

“Yes – it’s clearly a full time job”

“The complexity of cabinet roles is great and it is incomprehensible that such roles would not be full time. Many non cabinet members are also working full time as community champions”

However Cornwall is not just run by it’s elected councillors at the moment. Our structure also includes a ‘directorate’ – senior council officials with responsibility to run the council’s services. The directorate is split into 4 areas: Children, Families & Adults; Neighbourhoods; Customer and Support Services; Economic Growth & Development. These managers are overseen by the Chief Executive, Kate Kennally. For comparison, these senior managers get paid £140,000 a year and Kate Kennally gets £176,000.

It is these officials that many think have too much power at the moment and worringly there are plans to give them even more.

“The more this happens, the weaker the democratic oversight. The EU is a good example of what happens when democracy gives way to technocracy!”

Their has been major concern for example that  Kate Kennally installed Sandra Rothwell as Service Director of the Council’s Economic and Culture department whilst simultaneously remaining CEO of the Cornwall & IOS LEP.

This obvious conflict has caused ripples amongst Councillors, the executive and the LEP itself who have questioned the effectiveness of the appointment.

The debate goes on but one thing to point out is that their is no mention of replacing the Council with a Cornish Assembly or anything simliar. Although there is no legislation likely anytime soon on that (so the Council have a good excuse not to examine it as an option) it would have been good to see the councillors expressing the desire to move towards a ‘Senedh Kernow’ as we were promised was to be the course. The making of the unitary authority was sold on it being a stepping stone to further devolution, leading hopefully one day to a Cornish Assembly but it has not been on the radar of this review.

Look out for further revelations and articles on Cornwall’s governing structure in our ongoing series.

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Cornwall Councillors Allowance & Expenses 2015-16

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