New Cornwall Council boss says he will do his best for Cornwall
FOR Andrew Kerr, the new chief executive of Cornwall Council, the decision to come to Cornwall was an easy one.
“There were several attractions,” the softly spoken Scot said with a smile, “The place is, of course, beautiful.
“Professionally it is one of the largest unitary authorities in the country and I have a real professional interest in localism.
“Cornwall has made that leap and is made up of small communities and making that work as a whole successfully is a great professional challenge.
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“And I guess if you combine that with the dichotomy of the pull of about £1billion of investment which is coming in the next five to 10 years through European funding and having to save around £200million revenue here in this place ¬- then both are professional challenges.”
The married father of three says “like everyone” he has memories of summer holidays spent in Cornwall including one whole summer spent in Mousehole when the former athlete was recovering from an injury.
And it is clear from spending even a short time with Mr Kerr that he is clear in the direction that he sees Cornwall Council and Cornwall as a whole going in the next few years.
He is unabashed about saying that the council “needs to find a way to do more with less” and says that the council has to find new ways of delivering the services it provides.
Of course the last time the council tried to find a “new way” it was shrouded in controversy – the part-privatisation of services which resulted in a new company being formed with BT, but not before political fallout which resulted in the departure of a council leader and, ultimately, the departure of Mr Kerr’s predecessor Kevin Lavery.
Asked about this he said that the BT project had been a success and was something that the council has to build on if it is to be able to continue to provide the scale of services it does currently.
One of the problems facing Cornwall Council is the cut in funding it receives from central government and it is something Mr Kerr was addressing on his first day in his job when he joined a delegation of councillors to London to meet Government ministers.
There they argued the need for fair funding – stating that Cornwall as a rural council gets less per head of population than urban councils.
Mr Kerr said that they also raised other issues: “One of the things is to convince the government to allow local authorities more power to spend the money they are given.
“Rather than the government saying ‘here is a pot of money, you must do this with it’ it would be better if they gave us all our money and said ‘you need to do this, this and this but you can decide how you do it’.
“That would enable us to be in control of our finances and address the issues that we face in our individual areas.”
Turning to the investment that is coming to Cornwall through European funding Mr Kerr sees this as a great opportunity to create more jobs in Cornwall as well as boosting existing businesses in the county.
However he also recognises that while some of the investment would mean large developments that has to be balanced with protecting Cornwall’s unique landscape and character.
He said: “That is vital, we need to protect what Cornwall is unique for while also ensuring that we can move on and create more jobs.”
He also stresses that such benefits will not be seen immediately.
“We are starting to see the benefits of large scale infrastructure projects here in Cornwall now – the superfast broadband, the university and, in time, the developments at Newquay Airport.
“Any new projects will not provide immediate benefits but, in time, they will generate real opportunities for Cornwall.”
Immediately after stating this Mr Kerr also goes on to stress the vital need for small and medium sized businesses to thrive.
“Cornwall is never going to be a big manufacturing area – it is an area which is supported by small and medium sized businesses and we must continue to support those that are here while also encouraging new ones to set up her in Cornwall.”
It is clear from the way Mr Kerr speaks that he has a genuine concern for Cornwall and is also excited about his new post.
He says: “My whole career I have wanted to go somewhere I can make a difference and I really do think we can do some exciting things here in Cornwall.”
He added: “I have been given this job and I promise to do it to the best of my ability. I really want to help Cornwall and that is why I am here.”