To consider a verbal update, if any.
The Leader explained how pleased he had been with the collaboration across the tiers in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. The importance of local officer input and local knowledge, combined with the centralised expertise, had worked extremely well. The Morecambe Bay Trust had done a terrific job in very trying circumstances. A harmonious and collaborative working relationship between district councils and the County had been extraordinarily productive and would be essential in the coming months.
The Leader referred to Westminster Government having expressed a desire to reform local government, creating a series of combined authorities, led by directly-elected mayors, and based upon unitary authorities.
The Minister, Simon Clarke, who had just resigned, had said that a White Paper would soon be published explaining details. In the meantime, if a group of councils had consensus over a future structure, they could submit this ahead of time.
The County Council, together with Allerdale and Copeland, had asked for a letter of permission which would permit Cumbria to submit proposals for reform. The letter providing that permission was rumoured to be expected this week, although, the Leader suggested, the resignation of Simon Clarke might delay matters.
The Leader informed Members that the Lancaster and Barrow leaders and himself had asked the Secretary of State that the people of the area be given a possible Morecambe Bay option and that they had asked this be considered if pushed into unitary. No response had been received as yet.
In the previous week, the County Council Cabinet had agreed unanimously to submit a bid for unitary Cumbria. This, the Leader suggested, raised a lot of questions, particularly in the context of devolution. He was not sure how an elected mayor sat comfortably on top of a single unitary. There had not been a lot of detail on the assumptions in their submissions, so he had asked the leader for more detail.
The Leader added, as an aside, that this was a curious time to be entering into a bid to reorganise, as it would probably disrupt officers and councillors. Covid-19 had not gone away. There was a need to be focused and collaborative, and the Leader was concerned that this might have an adverse impact in this regard.
The Leader informed Members that, in anticipation of being asked to present a bid, Barrow, South Lakeland and Lancaster were preparing the detail on a potential Morecambe Bay unitary option. This would, of course, have to pass through the appropriate Council approvals, and there would be plenty of chance for discussion. He explained that he had offered officer briefings to the opposition groups, which, he believed, they would be taking up.
The Leader understood that if the letter arrived, Copeland and Allerdale were likely put in a bid for two unitaries, and that Carlisle and Eden would put in a different and entirely separate bid, meaning that four bids were likely to be submitted.
The Leader, therefore, advised that he proposed to arrange a Council briefing, as well as a formal Council discussion and report.