To consider funding for the creation of the new Westmorland and Furness Council.
Councillor Andrew Jarvis, Finance and Assets Portfolio Holder, presented a detailed report requesting resources to fund the implementation costs of Local Government Reorganisation (LGR) within Cumbria by creating two new unitary authorities from 1 April 2023.
The Cumbria Chief Finance Officer’s Group, attended by all Section 151 Officers of the seven Cumbrian authorities, had undertaken a high-level assessment of the financial impact of LGR and provided some indicative figures for implementation which had also been sense checked against other authorities which have been through the LGR process. The report, therefore, provided an update on the indicative cost of implementation. It also covered the establishment of a County Wide LGR Implementation Reserve including governance arrangements, funding proposals and the required scheme of delegation for relevant officers.
The report did not deal with the costs of transformation nor how these would be shared and funded, nor the level of savings that these could generate, as these would be decisions for the new shadow authorities, once established, and would be dealt with at a later date. Some of these costs would be incurred prior to vesting date and so the timing, value and share of any of these costs relating to 2022/23 to be funded by this Council would need to be determined for provision to be included in 2022/23 spending plans.
Councillor Jarvis referred to the indicative, high level budget for what was necessary to get the new authorities to be “safe and legal” on vesting day of £18.92m. Table 1 provided a breakdown of the costs. He referred to the creation of a County Wide Implementation Reserve to cover this indicative cost which would be 50% funded by the County Council, with 50% split equally among the districts. The contribution from South Lakeland District Council would, therefore, be up to £1.6m.
Councillor Jarvis was content that the approach outlined within the report was the most appropriate one, and that it had the full support of the Council’s Section 151 Officer. He felt reassured that proper governance arrangements were being put in place, which was of importance given that the deliverables of the reorganisation could not be precisely defined until the shadow authorities were in place.
Councillor Jarvis referred to an additional recommendation to allow the Finance Lead Specialist (Section 151 Officer) greater freedom around the payment date, copies of which had been circulated to Members at the start of the meeting. He moved the recommendations contained within the report, together with this additional recommendation. He was seconded by Councillor Jonathan Brook, Leader and Promoting South Lakeland Portfolio Holder who referred to the initial costs and the fact that this was a spend to save initiative.
In response to concern having been raised, the Legal, Governance and Democracy Lead Specialist (Monitoring Officer) explained that no money would be paid over until the Memorandum of Understanding had been signed by all parties involved. The Finance Lead Specialist (Section 151 Officer) reiterated this fact.
During discussion, Councillor Philip Dixon, Customer and Locality Services Portfolio Holder, referred to a recent staff wellbeing survey which had demonstrated an increase in the sense of wellbeing of the Council’s staff. He believed that it was due to the resilience of the Customer Connect Programme that the Council’s staff were coping with Local Government Reorganisation.
It was unanimously
RESOLVED - That
(1) the following be approved:-
(a) the establishment of an implementation reserve/budget provision of up to £1.6m, as the Council’s contribution to the LGR implementation costs, subject to contributions being approved by all the Cumbrian authorities; and
(b) the use of the General Reserve to create the new LGR implementation reserve; and
(2) the decision of Cabinet on 7 December 2021 to make payment in January 2022 be noted but that approval be given for the date of such payment to be set by the Finance Lead Specialist (Section 151 Officer) following the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding.