Without doubt, 2016 was a tumultuous year, with the referendum vote to leave the European Union and the result of the US presidential election among the significant changes that we need to face up to.
The world has certainly become a more uncertain place, with an increasing number of people appearing to have lost trust in public institutions. Many feel we need to rethink the way we engage with our communities. History has taught us that rebooting society is never an easy task and often it is the extremes in society that seek to capture the hearts and minds of those that feel most disaffected. Looking back on 2016 and the way that the media has reported the various challenges that we now face, one could be forgiven for being pessimistic about the year ahead.
I do not share this view.
Over the past twelve months I have seen organisations from the public, voluntary and private sectors in Cornwall work more closely together than ever before. I have witnessed leaders come together to challenge messages of hate and division, delivering strong and unified leadership that has provided certainty in these uncertain times. I have seen Cornwall and its people at their very best.
Cornwall Council has also begun a journey to change the way it governs, manages and delivers services to its residents, and in the long-term this will make us more resilient. These changes are happening because we signed the Cornwall devolution deal in July 2015. At its heart, the deal is about bringing decision making closer to the people, allowing them more influence over the way that services are run. It is also about different public organisations working closely together, delivering the most cost effective and responsive services.
Our deal has ambitious goals: to create an integrated and improved public transport system and produce more of the energy we need locally, make better use of buildings owned by public sector organisations and join together our health and social care systems.
Taken together, these initiatives will deliver thousands of new jobs and hundreds of new affordable homes for local people, improve skills and training and ensure that high quality health and social care services are available for those that need them most.
We have made excellent progress over the past year, delivering more than 250 new homes, supporting nearly 200 businesses, setting the foundations for two new energy sectors and delivering over 4,000 skills and apprenticeship programmes.
Perhaps just as importantly, our deal has provided a binding force that has encouraged different organisations to come together under the banner of devolution, with many local town and parish councils taking on devolved services from Cornwall Council. This is because we all, whatever our background, have a shared passion for the duchy and its people that transcends organisational boundaries and devolution provides a framework for closer working that will strengthen in the coming year.
I remain committed to building on what we have achieved and seeking further devolution from the government this year so we can accelerate the delivery of affordable housing and really get to grips with tackling fuel poverty. We’ve already made a great start by being selected by the government as one of the sites for a new garden village. I firmly believe 2017 will be a year when our residents will start to see with their own eyes what devolution is delivering for Cornwall.
While I may be a Cornwall councillor, I am also a proud Cornishman and devolution belongs to us all, irrespective of which organisation we may or may not belong to. We do live in uncertain times, but devolution offers us the chance to shape the way we deliver services into the future. Perhaps more importantly, it will allow us over time to develop a society where no one is left behind, opportunity is available to one and all, and equality becomes an embedded ethos that permeates everything we do.
This may sound idealistic, but as leaders in Cornwall we have a responsibility to deliver on these aspirations, and devolution is the vehicle through which we can start to effect this change. This is why I remain optimistic.
John Pollard (Ind), leader, Cornwall Council