Cornwall is set to gain control of budgets and assets worth more than £5bn as part of the first rural devolution deal, LGC has been told.
The deal, which was exclusively revealed by LGC three weeks ago, was confirmed by the prime minister this week. It will see the county take control of £1.8bn health and social care budgets from April 2016 while the power to make strategic decisions about the use of public sector assets worth about £2.8bn could be transferred sooner.
The council, working closely with the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, will also be able to decide how EU funding worth about £422m will be spent on projects across the county from next April, if not before.
Other elements of the deal include giving Cornwall the power to franchise bus services from January 2018 and £50m from the Department for Transport to create an integrated smart ticketing system for public transport in the county.
Cornwall will also be given control of a budget of about £200m to improve employment and skills opportunities by redesigning training and learning provision, improving careers advice, and developing new apprenticeship opportunities.
Meanwhile, funding streams, including Environment Agency cash and money currently under the control of South West Water, are to be combined to provide a pot of money to improve coastal defences.
Unlike in other, larger urban areas currently negotiating devolution deals, the government has not insisted Cornwall has an elected mayor. Cornwall Council’s chief executive Andrew Kerr told LGC this was due to the “simplicity” of the county’s governance and geography, which includes one unitary authority, one LEP, and one clinical commissioning group.
A detailed business case about how devolved health and social care budgets and services will be managed and delivered will now be drawn up.
An existing public sector partners board will be enhanced to incorporate representatives from all of the bodies and government agencies affected. Mr Kerr said as soon as this was in place the county could start taking decisions over the use of public sector assets.
The County Councils Network acting chair and Gloucestershire CC leader Mark Hawthorne (Con) said the deal set a “precedent” for bringing more decisions and services closer to county communities across England and it expected the deal to develop further.
When the deal was announced last Thursday, Cornwall Council’s leader John Pollard (Ind) said it was the “first stage of a longer journey” on getting the government to agree to all of the devolution demands included in the Case for Cornwall.
Mr Kerr said proposals around housing and planning had not formed part of the original negotiations as he had been told the government would not entertain them ahead of national policy announcements. However, Mr Kerr said Cornwall would be “encouraged” to discuss extending its devolution deal to incorporate elements of housing and planning in the future.
Mr Kerr urged other places seeking to strike similar devolution deals to appoint a dedicated team.
“This is about completely changing the way areas work and the freedoms and flexibilities they have,” he said. “This needs a full-time team. It’s certainly what we did and that very much played to our advantage.”
Mr Kerr is set to leave Cornwall Cornwall on Friday to become Edinburgh City Council’s chief executive. LEP chair Chris Pomfret has also announced his intention to step down from the role once a successor has been appointed. Two board members are also leaving.
Mr Kerr said he was “very confident” the leadership changes would not have a negative impact on the devolution deal’s implementation due to the “strength of partnership working” in the county.
Picture taken by Tim Green