To receive a verbal update, if any.
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 addressed the meeting, highlighting 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 new SOS still 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 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 (SLDC) would be abolished.
In the intervening period, Cumbria County Council (CCC) continued on its course to challenge the Governments decision. Earlier in the week, CCC had issued its Judicial Review application in respect of the Government’s proposals to create two new unitary authorities in Cumbria. That meant that legal proceedings had now commenced. CCC now had seven days in which to serve a copy of the court papers on the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the six district councils. Those papers had been sent out.
The first step in the court process was the granting of permission to bring a judicial review. Once the parties were served with the court papers they would have 21 days to respond. The judge would then make a decision as to whether or not to grant permission based on their reading of the papers. If the judge granted permission, the case would be listed for a substantive hearing. If the judge did not grant permission, CCC could ask for an oral hearing on the issues of permission. Further updates would be provided as the case progresses.
However, as before, because the timetable was so tight, work towards delivering a successful outcome for the LGR process could not stop. SLDC had, therefore, submitted its comments to Government in respect of the draft SCO. A response was awaited from Government and the Council had been informed that this should be received before the end of October. There would then be two weeks for the Council to make its response to the draft SCO.
It was anticipated that the draft SCO would include provisions relating to the names of the new authorities, the election arrangements, such as the number of councillors, geography and names of wards and number of councillors for each ward; also as previously indicated, provisions covering the terms of councillors and future election dates; and a host of other electoral matters including arrangements for by-elections and Parish Council elections. Finally, the make-up of any joint committees and the implementation executive would also be included in the draft SCO.
The draft would be finalised in November. Pre-legislative scrutiny of the SCO would take place in December and the draft would be laid in Parliament in January 2022, followed by Parliamentary scrutiny in February to March and it was expected that and the SOS will sign this into law prior to 28 March. Joint committees would then be established in April to run until the May 22 Elections when the Shadow Authorities would be formed which would become the sole principal Authorities in April 2023.
In the intervening period, there was a huge amount of work to be undertaken to ensure that the new authorities could transition on a safe and legal basis, but also to be able to look to provide transformed services that delivered the best outcomes for their communities for Members and for staff. This was why the Council remained absolutely focussed on delivering these outcomes and could not allow itself the luxury of slowing down at this point. The Council continued to aim to make this process as transparent as possible and would continue to provide regular and frequent updates.
The Leader and Promoting South Lakeland Portfolio Holder asked Members to note the contents of his verbal update and that further reports would be brought to Cabinet and/or Council and all Members.
In response to a query raised regarding the potential for the Judicial Review to result in a different option for reorganisation in Cumbria, the Leader and Promoting South Lakeland Portfolio Holder explained that work would continue in the meantime on the basis of the current proposal and that this preparatory work would be necessary whatever the outcome and, therefore, would not be wasted. As regards concern raised regarding the future of individual council’s assets, he explained that various workstreams and task groups would address such aspects as part of the process.
RESOLVED – That the following be noted:-
(1) the contents of the verbal update; and
(2) that further reports will be brought to Cabinet and/or Council, and all Members as appropriate.
Reasons for Decision
To keep Members updated on progress with LGR.
Alternative Options Considered and Rejected
None – the report was for noting.