To receive and consider any update as may be available by the date of the meeting (at the date of the Agenda being despatched an announcement is awaited – the update may be a verbal update or report to follow).
The Secretary of State’s decision with regard to Local Government Reorganisation in Cumbria having been received following the despatch of the Agenda, all Members had subsequently been emailed an electronic copy of the report which had also been published on the Council’s Website. The Secretary of State’s decision was for the implementation of two unitary councils on an East-West geography for the whole of the administrative county of Cumbria. This decision would mean the replacement of the County Council and all District/Borough Councils with a new Unitary Council for the area comprising Barrow, South Lakeland and Eden and one for the area comprising Copeland, Allerdale and Carlisle. The Secretary of State now intended to seek Parliamentary approval for the necessary secondary legislation to implement this proposal. It was intended that a draft Structural Changes Order would be laid in Parliament around the turn of the year and that it would include provision for the appropriate transitional arrangements, including for elections in May 2022 for the future unitary councils, and for those councils to assume the full range of local authority responsibilities on 1 April 2023. Elections to existing councils scheduled for May 2022, including those postponed from May 2021, would be cancelled. The focus was now for the Chief Executives and Senior Officers in Cumbria to discuss with Government officials the scope of matters to be included in the Structural Changes Order and how the programme of transition would be managed.
The Leader and Promoting South Lakeland Portfolio Holder, Councillor Jonathan Brook, introduced the report and expressed thanks for the opportunity to update Council on this important and historic item. He pointed out that the Council had now entered a fluid and fast moving period of change that would affect everyone, whether as councillors across all tiers of local government, or as officers, or as local residents, businesses or other organisations. It would lead to the dissolution of South Lakeland District Council and others across Cumbria and lead to the establishment of a new unitary authority. Councillor Brook, on behalf of Members, took the opportunity to again thank officers for their hard work over many months in helping to prepare the Council’s submission to the Secretary of State and for their consideration of the next steps. He thanked Members for their input and particularly the Deputy Leader and Finance and Assets Portfolio Holder, Councillor Andrew Jarvis, who had done an excellent job throughout, but particularly during Councillor Brook’s absence on holiday over the last two weeks, when the announcements and reactions had been made.
Councillor Brook did not wish to provide a detailed analysis of the Secretary of State’s decision or his analysis of the submitted proposals, although he felt that there were several points that could legitimately be made on the contents of his response and the flawed process by which the information had been cascaded down to those most affected by it in local government. He instead reiterated that the Council was firmly focussed on making these proposals work. Cabinet and officers would together seek to work closely with local authority colleagues across Cumbria to ensure that excellent local services and support continued to be delivered throughout the transitional period and that the foundations for an effective and efficient unitary structure fit for the future were put in place. The appetite and ambition to engage with the transformative agenda was undiminished, albeit on a different geographic footprint to that which had been hoped for.
Councillor Brook stressed the intent of engaging in a radical transformational agenda which would deliver enhanced and improved services for residents. He pointed out that South Lakeland District Council was well placed to take a leading role in this agenda, having embarked on its Customer Connect transformation programme and having real practical experience to bring to the table as the process progressed. He informed Members that conversations had already commenced between the three authorities of Eden, South Lakeland and Barrow, and that all were committed to work together to achieve the best possible outcomes for residents.
Councillor Brook explained that Members from across all parties would be kept both informed and involved. Although it was too early in the process to say exactly how this would be achieved, he pointed out that it was in the Council’s organisational DNA to work collaboratively across boundaries, so the Authority was well placed to deliver on its aspirations.
Councillor Brook stressed that this was an exciting opportunity and that the Council would work tirelessly to deliver the best outcomes for its communities. He moved the recommendations contained within the report and was seconded by Councillor Andrew Jarvis.
Members expressed support for the proposals, referring to the exciting opportunity and pointing out the need for cross party collaboration and engagement with businesses and residents.
Appreciation was shown for the tremendous work which had been put into the Bay proposal by the former Leader, Councillor Giles Archibald. Attention was drawn to the fact that two of the authorities which had formed part of that original proposal would now form part of the new authority, with some of that earlier work being visible. Councillor Archibald wished to thank officers and Members for their support for the original and solid proposal, however, he pointed out that it would not be appropriate to contest the Secretary of State’s decision and stressed the need to look forward to the implementation of the new authority. He referred to the strong economic and cultural ties with Lancaster and hoped that the new authority would link with other councils and look to the east and south as well as to the west and north.
During conversation, an amendment was proposed for the strengthening of Recommendation 2.1(3) to include for further reports to be brought not only to Cabinet and/or Council, but also to all Members, with the value that could be added by local members being highlighted. Both Councillor Brook, as proposer, and Councillor Jarvis, as seconder, were content to take this on board within the motion.
The Chairman thanked officers for the work and the Director of Strategy, Innovation and Resources who had prepared the report.
It was subsequently unanimously
RESOLVED – That
(1) the Secretary of State’s decision with regards to Local Government Reorganisation as it impacts this Council be noted;
(2) the Chief Executive and appropriate officers be authorised, in consultation with the Leader and Deputy Leader, to commence work with Cumbrian authorities in readiness for the implementation of reorganisation; and
(3) it be noted that further reports will be brought to Cabinet and/or Council, and all Members, as appropriate, once there is further detail on the Order and how reorganisation is to be implemented (the timetable of implementation may require meetings of Cabinet and Council to be held outside of the approved schedule of meetings).