To receive and consider a verbal update on progress relating to Local Government Reorganisation.
Note – Councillor Roger Bingham, a dual-hatted Member with an Other Registrable Interest, remained in the room during discussion and voting on the item, although with no voting rights as a Shadow Executive Member.
The Leader and Promoting South Lakeland and Innovation Portfolio Holder highlighted some of the key points in respect of the Local Government Reorganisation (LGR) process.
The decision of the Secretary of State (SOS) had been received on 21 July 2021.
The SOS now intended to seek Parliamentary approval for the necessary secondary legislation to implement the two unitary, East-West proposal. To achieve this, a draft Structural Changes Order (SCO) would be laid in Parliament around the turn of the year and that would include provision for 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, when predecessor councils, including South Lakeland District Council, would be abolished.
In the intervening period, Cumbria County Council (CCC) had issued a pre-action protocol letter in respect of a proposed claim by CCC for a Judicial Review of the decision of the SOS, to create two new unitary authorities for the county of Cumbria.
A response from Government to this letter was awaited and then for CCC’s subsequent decisions in this respect. However, because the timetable was so tight, work towards delivering a successful outcome for the LGR process could not be stopped.
A Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) for the LGR programme had been agreed to be the new County Council Chief Executive Officer, namely Gillian Steward. The programme covered all seven councils in Cumbria.
The SRO had gone on to establish lead Chief Executive Responsibilities and Task and Finish groups within the programme. Weekly Leaders, Chief Executive and Joint Leaders and Chief Executive Meetings had also now been established and the work programme was beginning to take shape.
The Leader and Promoting South Lakeland and Innovation Portfolio Holder turned to the SCO. This was the statutory instrument through which the SOS’s decision became legislation. The SCO had to be approved by both Houses of Parliament, after which time it could be made and brought into effect as law. This part of the process normally took around seven to eight weeks.
There were some provisions which needed to be included in the SCO such as:-
· the setting up of the new authorities, and shadow authorities for the period prior to the implementation date; and
· the dissolution of the existing authorities and the role of both the shadow authorities and the existing authorities in preparing for implementation.
There were other provisions which would be included, but where further discussion would be required, such as the names of the new authorities and the election arrangements, such as the number of councillors, geography and names of wards and number of councillors for each ward. Also, the term of councillors and future election dates. In this respect the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) had indicated the intention that the first term would be five years (one year shadow and four years normal term), with the following elections to be held in 2027. A host of other electoral matters, including by-elections and Parish Council elections, would also be covered by the SCO.
It had been made clear that the wards for the 2022 elections would need to be based on existing wards or divisions and that any boundary review would happen after 2022 and before the 2027 elections.
Finally, the make-up of any joint committees and the implementation of the executive will also be included in the SCO.
The Leader and Promoting South Lakeland and Innovation Portfolio Holder turned next to the Shadow Authorities. These would not be established until after the May 2022 elections. During the period between the SCO coming into law and the establishment of the Shadow Authorities, the SCO would provide for joint committees to be set up. These joint committees would be responsible for implementation during this short period and for agreeing the key governance framework for the Shadow Authorities, including the code of conduct, remuneration for members, and the constitution which would be agreed by the relevant Shadow Authority at is first meeting.
It had been indicated by MHCLG that the new Authorities would adopt a Leader and Executive model of governance.
The timeline that MCHLG had provided for the process indicated that the draft SCO was to be prepared in August/September by MHCLG with input from the councils, with the draft SCO being shared for comments in October before being finalised in late October/November.
It was clear from this that there would be two opportunities to feed into the SCO, at the drafting stage and in October at the stage when the draft SCO was shared.
Each authority would need to consider the internal procedures which would be needed for agreeing the input into the SCO at the drafting stage and agreeing the comments on the draft SCO in October.
The suggested window for commenting on the draft SCO was no more than a month, so there was likely to be a relatively tight time frame for providing these comments and planning for decisions would be essential.
The Leader and Promoting South Lakeland and Innovation Portfolio Holder was proposing to allocate the executive decision-making function to himself as set out under S9E of the Local Government Act 2000. He was also requesting Cabinet’s endorsement of this proposed approach.
He, therefore, made a number of recommendations which were subsequently seconded and voted on, resulting in the decision below.
Prior to the vote, discussion took place, during which the Leader and Promoting South Lakeland and Innovation Portfolio Holder responded to a number of queries and comments. With regard to a query as to what would happen to the valuable regalia of individual authorities, he presumed that, with Barrow likely to become parished and that the parishes may hold onto these items as part of the arrangements. With regard to ward boundaries, he explained that the SOS had said that the existing boundaries for wards/divisions would be maintained, so these would be the current CCC divisions. This meant 38 councillors for the east. Authorities iin the East felt that this was not enough, and were suggesting two Members per division – a total of 76 Members. Paul Rowsell had, however, indicated that there would be no more than 40 Members. As regards the future of the individual councils’ assets, the Leader and Promoting South Lakeland and Innovation Portfolio Holder explained that various workstreams and task groups would address this and many other issues. This would be a massive project and he explained that all tasks would have to be prioritised and pointed out that not everything would be in place by the start of the new Authority. He confirmed that CCC’s letter regarding Judicial Review had been sent to the SOS who had 14 days in which to respond, following which CCC would need to consider themselves what further action to take.
The Leader and Promoting South Lakeland and Innovation Portfolio Holder was thanked for his informative update and the Chief Executive for his weekly reports.
RESOLVED – That
(1) the following be endorsed:-
(a) the Leader’s proposal to allocate any executive decision-making required relating to work taking place with the Cumbria authorities in readiness for the implementation of Local Government Reorganisation to the Leader in consultation with the Chief Executive;
(b) the Leader’s proposed allocation and it be agreed that, in the event that the Leader is not available, this responsibility held by the Leader will be delegated to the Deputy Leader or such other Portfolio Holder whom the Leader has authorised in writing; and
(c) the Leader’s proposed allocation and it be agreed that, in the event that the Chief Executive is not available, this responsibility held by the Chief Executive will be delegated to such persons as the Chief Executive has authorised in writing; and
(2) the following be noted:-
(a) the contents of the verbal update; and
(b) that further reports will be brought to Cabinet and/or Council, and all Members, as appropriate, once there is further detail on the Structural Change 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).
Reasons for Decision
As explained above, the time frames are tight and planning for decision-making is essential.
Alternative Options Considered and Rejected
No alternative options were considered and rejected in the course of the verbal update. The decision includes provision for further Cabinet and Council reports once there is further detail.