Cornwall celebrates second anniversary of historic Devolution Deal

Three years after launching the "Standing up for Cornwall" campaign and then becoming the first rural local authority in the country to be offered a devolution deal, we are celebrating the second anniversary of our historic deal which is making a real difference to the lives of local residents and businesses.

Following the Scottish referendum in 2015 the Council was determined to be at the forefront of the growing momentum for local authorities in England to be given greater powers and freedoms.  After listening to local residents and businesses, we started drafting a Case for Cornwall based on the things people had said needed improving.  These included fairer levels of funding for all public services, better maintained roads and improved bus services, more affordable homes for local people, and additional powers to grow the economy, create new jobs and improve employment and skills.

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After testing these "asks" through a successful #standupforCornwall social media campaign, public meetings and a survey, they were included in the final Case for Cornwall which formed the basis of our negotiations with the Government.

On 16 July 2015 the Government announced that we had become the first rural local authority to be given a devolution deal, with the Prime Minister and Communities Secretary travelling to Cornwall to support the signing of the formal agreement. 

"Two years ago we welcomed Prime Minister David Cameron and the Communities Secretary Greg Clark to Cornwall for the formal signing of our historic Deal," said Adam Paynter, the Leader of Cornwall Council.

"Our Deal was about giving Cornwall more control over how we deliver the services that are important to residents and businesses, including transport, education and health.  It was the first step in securing more powers and flexibilities for Cornwall and ensuring that decisions over important services are taken closer to the people that they are delivered to.

"I am very proud that the achievements we have made and the foundations we have put in place over the past two years are now helping to create thriving communities, and deliver sustainable and fairer funding and increased prosperity."

The Deal agreed in 2015 covered a range of key areas, including transport, employment and skills, EU funding, business support, energy, health and social care, public buildings, and heritage and culture, with a number of exciting "firsts" for Cornwall.

These included the proposals for transport which would see us become the first rural authority in the country to be given powers to franchise bus services.  Other "firsts" included an agreement on European Union funding which would give Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Intermediate Body status, ensuring that decisions on allocating EU funding to projects would be made locally rather than at Westminster and a commitment by the Government to work with the Council and the LEP to join up national and local business support services to make it easier for local businesses to find the support they need. 

The simple answer is that significant achievements have been made in all areas of the Deal, with particular successes in improving public transport with new buses and helping businesses access the support they need to grow more easily:

Transport – Over £10.7m has been invested by bus operators into brand new buses during the last 12 months, with more new buses planned for 2017/18 and 2019/20. This has led to people taking 700,000 more journeys by bus.  Passengers will be able to use SMART ticketing and contactless payment options in August, with the new smart tickets able to be used on both trains and buses. Information on bus times is now 'live' and passengers will soon be able to access an on-line and mobile Transport Journey Planner, which includes the ability to buy a ticket.  We now have control over spending a £126m budget in Cornwall which means we can shape transport services more effectively to join up journeys and better meet the needs of our residents..

Energy – Being energy rich Cornwall has the ability to become self-sufficient in energy, and through local control we can keep the benefits of these resources. We have now invested in two pilot new clean energy sources using European funds – wave and deep geothermal – both if successful will be brand new energy sectors for the UK, as well as a Heat Network pilot.  We have also set up an 'enterprise zone' to help businesses involved in clean energy establish their companies and employ local people. 

Employment and Skills – We have refreshed our Employment and Skills Strategy, which includes an apprenticeship strategy and sets out our vision to 2030.  The Skills Access Hub is now live and will be aligned to the Growth Hub to support businesses with their skills and development needs.  We have published the 'Cornwall Careers Offer' and successfully secured additional funding to recruit Enterprise Co-ordinators around clusters of schools and focus  resources on Special Schools and alternative provision.

Keeping money in Cornwall – We are one of only a handful of regions in the UK who can now keep all of the business rates we raise. This does not mean that we will get more money, but it does mean that we have more control of the money that will help pay for services in Cornwall.

European money – We now have control over the way that European funds are spent in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. This means we can now make sure that funds are matched to local priorities, and we can decide on the projects that best meet these local needs. There are still tens of millions of pounds to be spent, and our Devolution Deal has ensured that these funds will be used in a way that will most benefit Cornwall. These funds will create thousands of jobs and support hundreds of businesses. 

Improving Cornish homes – New ways of improving insulation in Cornish homes agreed with the Government means we have more control over deciding which homes can receive this support. The fund for this work is likely to be worth up to £3m which will make a real difference to the lives of hundreds of people currently living in cold and damp homes.  This is an exciting new scheme which has been delivered as a direct result of our Deal.

Health and social care – Some elements of devolution take longer to deliver.  The foundations are being put in place for the delivery of more joined up health and social care services. Partners from health, public health and the Council are all working together to develop plans to help people stay as healthy as possible, support people to remain independent and well in their community and make the system more sustainable.  We are also investigating how the work we are taking forward locally can be supported and enhanced by our devolution status by seeking freedoms and flexibilities, more control and ownership over health and care related budgets and possibly transition funding. 

Emergency services working together – Our Deal has allowed us to bring our ambulance, fire and police emergency services across Cornwall together.  We now have joined up 'blue-light' services in places like Hayle and Truro. By locating and training staff from different agencies together, these services are providing a more joined up response to local situations. We are also joining up other services, such as Job Centre Plus with Council offices. This means that a wider range of services can be accessed in a single location, reducing the costs of owning or leasing different buildings considerably.

Helping local businesses to grow – Our Devolution Deal has led to the creation of new, easier to access support systems for local businesses.  The development of the Growth Hub and its links with other programmes has helped over 8,000 businesses in Cornwall to grow and develop. Having more control over how we support business, rather than adopting national systems, means we have been able to target help to meet demand in the most simple and effective way.

Changing the way we work with partners – We have changed the way we work with partners and the Government to look after our heritage and protect the countryside and homes from flooding. We have new partnerships in place that are creating exciting new plans that will allow us to better manage our heritage and invest in ways to prevent flooding for many years to come. These arrangements have revolutionised the way we work, and have set the foundations for potential future devolution asks.

One of the key areas to benefit from the Devolution Deal has been business, with significant improvements in the support available to help local businesses to grow.

"The launch of the Growth Hub a year ago means it is easier for businesses to find advice and support, and this will soon be followed by a Skills Hub to match them with the right skills," said Mark Duddridge, the Chairman of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership.  "We are working with schools, colleges and employers to improve careers advice for young people and make sure employment and training schemes fit Cornwall better.

"Thanks to Government support, Cornwall now has a Low Carbon Enterprise Zone to attract jobs and investment, and early next year will see the launch of a multi-million pound investment fund to support business growth.  Greater say over local transport funding is also transforming our bus and rail services, and enhancing other infrastructure investment."

"We are delivering on the promises in the Deal and have an exciting year ahead as local residents and businesses see the real impact of the Deal on their lives," said Adam Paynter.  "These include saving council taxpayers’ money by sharing buildings with our public sector partners, providing new buses and developing tickets which can be used on both buses and trains, and supporting local businesses to grow.

"We will continue to be ambitious and will be working with the Government to identify potential areas of future devolution, particularly around housing, planning powers, future funding opportunities for Cornwall and integrating our education, health and social care services.  Whilst also assessing the potential impact of Brexit and the opportunities this offers for devolved powers from Brussels. 

"We said in 2015 that the signing of the Deal was not the end of the development of the Case for Cornwall – it was very much the beginning.  Devolution remains a journey; an exciting journey that we want all stakeholders and residents in Cornwall to share."

Story posted 17 July 2017