Page last updated at 07:24 GMT, Wednesday, 13 May 2009 08:24 UK

First election for new authority

by Martyn Oates
Political Editor, BBC South West

Cornwall coastal path
The new unitary authority covers a large rural community

The local elections on 4 June will be a completely new experience for Cornwall, because the county council and six district councils were consigned to history at the beginning of April.

Cornish voters will be electing councillors to a completely new unitary authority which has taken on all the powers of the seven authorities it replaced.

The new Cornwall Council is responsible for schools, social services, rubbish collection, roads, planning and more.

It also has more seats than the old county council: 123 as opposed to 82.

This is not only new for Cornwall, the unitary authorities for large rural counties, introduced this spring, are a new and untested form of local government.

Controversial move

The move to unitary status was controversial and the old Liberal Democrat-controlled county council, the main driving force, suffered a succession of embarrassments during its final year of existence.

Its leader had to fight off several votes of no confidence before announcing he would not be standing for election to the new authority.

There was huge public opposition to the council's plans - eventually dropped - to design a new logo, which would have replaced the traditional coat of arms with an abstract flame-like design.

Then Newquay Airport had to close for three weeks before Christmas because the county council failed to arrange a Civil Aviation Authority licence in time to take over the running of the airfield from the RAF.

Cornwall Council logo
Plans for a new flame-like logo were eventually dropped

Even more seriously, the Audit Commission branded the county's Fire Service "poor", down from "fair" in 2005.

Shortly afterwards the commission announced the council "wasn't improving adequately".

The Improvement & Development Agency was even blunter: "Cornwall County Council is faced with a significant number of serious problems... it is very important that the development of the new unitary council is not seen as the sole solution."

The county council also handed one particularly hot potato to its successor - how to solve Cornwall's mounting waste crisis. Plans for a large incinerator were thrown out just before 1 April.

On a brighter note, the county council bequeathed its successor the lowest percentage increase in council tax of any county in the South West.

The Liberal Democrats only became the ruling group at the last election. Previously there had been a long period of No Overall Control.

The outgoing Cornwall County Council had 48 Liberal Democrat members, nine Conservative and five Labour.

The remaining 20 seats were held by independent candidates, so it will be interesting to see how that Cornish tradition fares on 4 June.

Cornwall also has a long-standing nationalist party, Mebyon Kernow (MK), which believes the county should have self-government and a legislative assembly, similar to Scotland and Wales.

MK had no county councillors, but did have nine district councillors, before the two-tier system was abolished.

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