Building a Stronger Cornwall: The Case for Increased Public Services Funding

With over 400 miles of coastline (the longest of any UK county), falling short of island status by a mere 2.5 miles of terrain, Cornwall continues to face a distinctive geographical challenge only found elsewhere in island communities.

Counties in the middle of England are able to rely on surrounding local authorities, police forces, fire services or health services in times of limited resource availability. In contrast, due to its peripheral isolation, Cornwall can only rely on its own resilience in tough times, serving to question why these unique challenges are not reflected in government funding allocation.

Cornwall has the privilege of hosting around 5 million tourists a year, annually generating over £2bn for the Cornish economy, with an estimated 1 in 3 households gaining at least part of their income from tourism. I welcome the benefits that tourism brings to the Cornish economy, but despite being home to the perfect post-card holiday destination, many ignore the very real challenges that numerous Cornish individuals, households, and indeed businesses consequently face.

Cornwall’s tourist season, which runs for six months from April to September, has had a significant impact on housing availability, where there already exists a shortage. In my constituency, 28% of properties in the picturesque town of Fowey are second homes or empty properties; meanwhile, the number of people registered for council and affordable housing more than doubled between 2020 and 2022 and continues to rise.

The burgeoning impact of tourism has elevated the prices of Cornish homes to 20% higher than the UK average, resulting in a low-wage, high-cost economy. Due to an ever-growing awareness and interest to invest in Cornwall’s creative and clean energy industries, average salaries in Cornwall have seen an increase in the past 3 years, yet they remain £9,000 behind the UK’s average. Too many people of Cornwall are simply priced out of the market, leading to a localised ‘brain-drain’ with our younger generations preferring to leave and cross the Tamar to find better economic prospects.

The lack of housing options as a direct result of tourism also has a strong knock-on effect in other areas of public services. In Cornwall, we have seen countless instances of schools, hospitals, and care homes unable to recruit and facing staff shortages due primarily to the lack of available housing. Furthermore, with the influx of tourists over the summer, it is often said that our NHS in Cornwall faces two winters every year. While most hospitals and NHS services across the UK experience some respite in the summer months, Cornwall absorbs this pressure, annually prompting our NHS leaders to urge visitors to visit community pharmacies, call their own GPs from home, and only use emergency services when necessary. The impact of tourism on Cornwall’s NHS is estimated by the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust to be at over £2m. Evidently, seasonal tourism needs to be accounted for in funding allocations.

Cornwall is one of the few counties in England with no motorways. Consisting of 5,000 miles of narrow, mainly rural roads, on a long, narrow peninsular, Cornwall faces significantly greater transport challenges, which has an impact on the cost and delivery of school transport. Nowhere is this problem more acutely felt than in the area of SEND provision, where greater travel is required; the lack of funding to account for this is troubling. Provisional funding for 2024/5 will see SEND children in Cornwall receive roughly £2,000 less per person in comparison to their counterparts in London boroughs.

It is important to note that Cornwall has no towns with a population of more than 25,000 and almost half our population live in villages of fewer than 3,000 inhabitants. This presents distinctive challenges by way of rurality and sparsity to our public services that are not comparable to other parts of the country. For example, Devon and Cornwall Police cover the largest force area in England (over 4000 square miles) and the second largest in all of England and Wales.

I have frequently highlighted that there remains a disparity between the funding of rural and urban police forces, an issue which has only worsened in the last few years. Each day, Devon and Cornwall Police receive 10p per person less than the England and Wales average. This figure rises to 13p during Cornwall’s tourist season, notably at a time when Cornwall statistically sees a rise in anti-social behaviour, when towns like Newquay increase in population from about 24,000 to 200,000 during any given week in July and August. An urgent decision needs to be made regarding the review of the police funding formula before the summer season.

It has been nearly 10 years since the Government rightly recognised the special status of the Cornish as a national minority under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. I have closely worked with the Government in their recent efforts to tackle geographical inequalities, with £132m of Shared Prosperity funding going into supporting economic growth in Cornwall. These efforts are very much welcome, yet I still implore the Government to look at ensuring Cornwall’s unique landscape and challenges are reflected evenly across future funding decisions.

Steve Double MP

Steve Double is the Conservative MP for St Austell and Newquay, and first elected in 2015.