A leadership battle ensued at the annual meeting of Cornwall Council yesterday (Tuesday, May 23) with an opposition candidate asking members to vote for a “different way of running the council and making a better Cornwall” following counter nominations for current leader, Conservative councillor Linda Taylor, to continue in the role.
Independent councillor Julian German – a former leader of the council – said he would put £100m on the table to tackle climate change and housing and energy problems through a whole house retrofit scheme, and would improve pay for care staff.
The leadership election started with portfolio holder for transport Connor Donnithorne nominating Cllr Taylor as leader. He said: “We’re two years in and I think this administration has lots to be proud of – balanced budgets, record investment into adult social care and delivering value for taxpayers’ money. Linda has provided the strong, real leadership with an effective Cabinet to deliver on the priorities of residents and businesses across Cornwall.
“We have four priority outcomes we are working on to deliver – to continue building on Cornwall being a brilliant place for children to grow up in and that’s why we’re proud of the additional £22.7m in 2022/23 to help clear the backlog of schools maintenance which was passed over by the previous administration; an enterprising council where we’re building the UK’s largest digitisation in local government; to improve connectivity and through our group of companies working to deliver the world’s largest offshore power generation; to deliver vibrant and supportive safe communities.
“I’m delighted as the Cabinet member for transport to welcome with open arms the £5m extra funding from this Conservative Government to tackle and fix the potholes and the state of some of our roads; more affordable housing than Manchester or Leeds, and delivering cheap and reduced bus fares. Delivering on the priorities of the residents of Cornwall and that is happening under the direction and strong leadership of my friend Cllr Linda Taylor.” His nomination was seconded by deputy leader David Harris.
Fellow independent councillor Loic Rich then nominated Cllr German, seconded by Lib Dem member Colin Martin, who said: “I’d like to start by praising Cllr Taylor for taking up the challenge of tackling discrimination and abuse. She’s spoken out in support of refugees, raised awareness of violence against women and girls, and revealed the extent of harassment and abuse experienced by councillors. I also want to thank her for continuing the work started by the previous administration on tackling the housing crisis and the climate emergency.
“But leadership requires more than being in favour of something, it’s showing strength in the face of conflicting priorities and sadly too many of the things that Cllr Taylor has supported in principle have not been put into practice. Whenever there’s a choice between the best interests of Cornwall, the wishes of the Conservative government, the preferences of Conservative councillors or the influence of council officers, Cllr Taylor has failed to show the leadership that Cornwall deserves.
“Spending more money is not the same as achieving good outcomes. Council taxes are higher than ever but care workers are paid just 48p above the legal minimum wage and that balanced budget was only achieved by abandoning the manifesto pledge to introduce a cap on care costs so Cornish residents would no longer have to sell heir homes to pay for their care.
“More council tax on second homes, rules to restrict holiday lets, an end to no fault evictions, safety measures on the deadly A38, real action to insulate our homes, electrify our vehicles and improve public transport … everyone in this room agrees with all of those things. We’ve counted on Cllr Taylor to deliver them but she’s failed. Of course, a huge amount of time, energy and money was wasted on the Government’s scheme to impose a Mayor for Cornwall where she marched us all to the top of the hill and then back down again.
“It’s time to elect a leader who will work with all parties to speak in a strong voice for the best interests of Cornwall one and all.”
Speaking in support of his nomination, Cllr German outlined his plans if made leader. “Today is a choice about a different way of running the council and about delivering more for our residents, and making a better Cornwall.” He promised to double members’ community chest to allow them to do more to deliver for the residents in their areas. He also said he wanted to flatten management structures at the council and ensure staff “do the job they’re qualified to do”.
Cllr German added: “We’re facing multiple crises and we need to take action now. I would put £100m on the table to tackle the climate crisis. We’re falling in our delivery of affordable housing, despite what the current leader says. A key part of that is the quality of our stock – we need to improve the quality through whole house retrofit with that £100m attracting other investment. It would also reduce bills for our residents, reduce their heating costs, it would tackle damp in people’s homes, helping to tackle the health crisis.
“I would bring the affordable housing team back in house. We absolutely need to get a grip of the social care crisis and I would do that by ensuring our care workers are paid a minimum starting rate of £14 per hour. We need to make it attractive for people to have that career. We’ve seen the largest ever government increase in funding to Cornwall Council. What have we done? We’ve put more into reserves, we’ve cut highways by 30 per cent, we’ve cut the footpaths capital grant. I would reverse those decisions.”
Following the speeches, councillors voted in the council chamber at Lys Kernow (New County Hall) in Truro for their preferred leader. Cllr Taylor was elected by 47 votes to 33, and immediately confirmed that she would be reappointing her current Cabinet colleagues for the next year.
She told the meeting: “Thank you for electing me as leader for the next year. It is, and continues to be, the greatest honour of my life to lead this council and to work daily to improve the lives of our residents.”
The meeting also saw the re-election of Cllr Pauline Giles as chairman of the council and Cllr Jordan Rowse as vice-chairman for the third successive year. Following her election Cllr Taylor gave her annual ‘State of Cornwall in the National Context’ speech, which outlines how the council has performed in comparison to the rest of the UK over the past 12 months.
She said: “Despite the successes of the past 12 months, we cannot and will not become complacent. We still have much work to do to achieve the tough targets we have set ourselves and far from ‘just managing’ out the next two years, I want the council to remain aspirational and continue to be the flagbearer for rural councils.
“We will do that by securing further powers and funding for Cornwall; together with doing more to provide great value for our local taxpayers’ money with improving services delivered on budget.”