A Conservative councillor told colleagues at a meeting today that his own party’s Cornwall Council leader should not be given any further powers.
Cllr John Conway said anything that appeared to give council leader Linda Taylor increased powers should be discouraged following public opinion against the unpopular Mayor of Cornwall bid, which was thrown out earlier this year.
He was talking during a review of the cabinet’s procedural rules by the council’s constitution and governance committee on Tuesday, September 5. Councillors were asked to approve various changes to rules and regulations to make the legislative framework clearer and more concise.
It included making clear how the leader communicates to members, officers, stakeholders and members of the public, her appointments to the cabinet and allocation of portfolios to the cabinet members. The changes also included ensuring the leader presents her “scheme of delegation” to members and the public at the start of each municipal year.
Cllr Conway, Conservative member for Launceston South, said: “Having read through the report, the impression I get is that it strengthens the position of the leader. We’ve just had an almighty row for the last two and a half years about having a Mayor for Cornwall. I believe anything at the current time which strengthens the leader’s position is bad for Cornwall and therefore should be voted against.
“So I will be voting against this on the basis that if we’re doing anything, we should be reducing the power of the leader to give more power to A. the cabinet and B. the 87 members who have been voted throughout Cornwall and not just one person.”
He added: “The whole idea of the stronger the leader becomes is anti-democratic and from that point of view I believe we shouldn’t be looking at this.”
Other councillors were quick to suggest Cllr Conway has “read too much” into the report.
Committee chairman Barry Jordan said he had to correct Cllr Conway as the suggestion was to give the leader more powers to devolve decision making to cabinet members “and not take on more power herself”. He added: “I have spoken to the leader and she assures me it’s not taking more power, but is actually giving her the power to devolve down.”
Lia Musto-Shinton, the council’s senior corporate governance lawyer, pointed out: “We do have an executive governance model: leader and cabinet. We’ve had it since Cornwall Council has been a unitary authority since 2009. All the cabinet procedure rules do is simply set out what is already set out in the legislation, so it doesn’t give the leader any further powers than she already has as set out in the Local Government Act and accompanying regulations.
“What it does seek to make clear in terms of process is communicating in a more robust and detailed manner her delegations down to cabinet members and officers.”
Deputy chairman Chris Wells added: “We are not giving any extra powers to the leader. In fact, it’s delegating more of those powers to other members of the cabinet, so it’s spreading the load more. To me, it’s more of a tidying up exercise than any transfer of power. I think maybe Cllr Conway has read more into this than is really there.”
The council’s monitoring officer Henry Gordon-Lennox verified that the review of the cabinet procedure rules was not an enhancement of power. “This is about clarity within our own constitution and increased transparency.”
Cllr Conway added: “I think at this time we need to be extremely careful that we don’t do anything that appears to increase the powers available to the leader in view of the very clear mandate that we had from the people of Cornwall that we don’t want a mayor and anything that pushes the leader’s current position any closer to that of a mayor.
Councillors were told that if they voted against the resolution there would be less clear and concise cabinet procedural rules sitting within the council’s constitution. The committee voted in favour of the proposed changes to the rules.
Cllr Taylor dropped plans to seek an enhanced devolution deal for Cornwall which would require a directly elected mayor. She issued a statement in April saying that she would not be recommending to her cabinet a proposal to seek a Level 3 deal.
The announcement came a week after results of a public consultation on the issue was published which showed that 69% of people were opposed to the devolution deal and a Mayor for Cornwall. Under the plans Cornwall Council was seeking a Level 3 deal with the government which would have devolved some powers to the council and provide £390million of additional funding. The council is now seeking a lesser Level 2 deal without the mayoral element.