With the UK Government and regional and local authorities recently at daggers drawn, devolution is in the news. It’s timely therefore to consider current relations between the different tiers of local government in Cornwall. A recent article by Jane Wills, Professor of Geography at Exeter University, Tremough, does exactly that.
During the austerity decade of the 2010s, local government in England and Cornwall bore the brunt of cuts. On average the budgets of local councils fell by 50% in real terms as central government successfully passed the blame for cuts onto councils. But in Cornwall an unlikely hero rode to the rescue in the shape of Town Councils.
Jane Wills claims that ‘almost all’ public toilets, parks, libraries and community centres in Cornwall have been saved from closure by the simple device of transferring them to town councils, who then raise their precept to cover the costs. The author suggests this is part of a more general shift from one tier of local government to a lower one.
She also claims this ‘asset transfer’ is underpinned by a new social contract with residents in the towns, who willingly pay to maintain these services. Are town and parish councils, a political backwater since the 1970s, emerging from their chrysalises as gloriously coloured butterflies fluttering to a new era? Or will their short lives be terminated by the icy winds of a post-covid world, shoved into a second wave of austerity?