Local Government Reorganisation in Cumbria – consultation response

West Cumbria Liberal Democrats response to the consultation on Local Government Reform for Cumbria reads as follows:

Summary Statement (which applies to all the proposals):

The proposal which is by far the most coherent is the one for a single unitary authority, but if this is does go ahead, very substantial work needs to be done to think through and address how democracy will work in Cumbria going forward. 

In particular these questions need to be addressed:
How will ordinary working people in future be able to become local authority councillors?

Where will high-quality councillors with current working experience and relative youth come from?

Why would people choose to be councillors, given the weight of the new jobs and the travel requirements?

These questions are of particular importance in West Cumbria where travel distances for councillors are vast.

In addition, the position of Town and Parish Councils will need to be reviewed both to consider what powers can be devolved to local level and how to make best use of Parish Councils with very small numbers of residents and many holiday homes.

Those outside of Cumbria need to understand that the workload of unitary councillors will be vast compared with the workloads of councillors in metropolitan areas.  Most county councillors in Cumbria already cover areas bigger than those covered by MPs in urban areas, and they have to represent up to about 11 parish councils, dealing with complex and often unique highways and flooding issues.  It is worth noting that the whole of greater London (which made up of 32 councils) is less than three quarters of the size of Eden District Council, which is just one of the six district councils that make up Cumbria.  

We consider that all the proposals for two unitary authorities should be dismissed because each will clearly not work for some parts of Cumbria, they raise issues about participation in Local Government and they neither generate the substantial savings nor the streamlining of public services which are the major non-political drivers behind the proposal for unitarisation.

We oppose any suggestion of a Mayor for Cumbria. There is too much social diversity within the County for any one person to be acceptable. We also feel that the appointment of a Mayor threatens and quite unnecessarily politicises Local Government. It has also been further politicised by the government’s decision to revert to use of a “first past the post” system for mayoral elections. This is a backwards democratic step and will be seen as rigging the system to favour parties such as the conservatives who do not share the same space in the political spectrum with other major parties. Any such attempt to elect a unitary mayor for Cumbria under this system will stoke feelings of unfairness and division within the electorate and go completely against the intent of establishing the position of mayor as a unifying role to speak for the whole county.

Substantial work needs to be done to think through the implications of any reforms for parish councils, particularly those which are struggling to recruit councillors and function now and so will be likely to fail if they are given further duties. 

Proposal 1: Submitted by Allerdale Borough Council and Copeland Borough Council

Allerdale/Copeland/Carlisle            Eden/South Lakeland/Barrow

1. Is this proposal likely to improve local government and service delivery across each area? Specifically, is it likely to improve council services, will it give greater value for money, generate savings, provide stronger strategic and local leadership and create more sustainable structures? 

No: The resulting small unitary authorities will struggle to compete to recruit high calibre staff to run complex services.  Those advocating for this model have made many claims about their benefits which do not stand up to scrutiny. 

2. Where it is proposed that services will be delivered on a different geographic footprint than currently, through some form of joint arrangements, is this likely to improve those services? Such services may for example be children’s services, waste collection and disposal, adult health and social care, planning, and transport. 

No: One of the non-credible claims made about this model is that it will solve existing problems with children’s social services, however the solutions proposed will not solve the core problems that exist.

3. Is this proposal also likely to impact local public services delivered by others, such as police, fire and rescue, and health services?

 Yes : This proposal creates new authority boundaries that cut across all these services in new ways. 

4. Do you support this proposal from the councils? 

 No: The claimed benefits are not credible and no proposals exist to address the many challenges this model would clearly generate.

The size of the two new unitaries would not enable realisation of the proposed benefits of unitarisation.

5. Do the unitary councils proposed by this proposal represent a credible geography? 

 No: The new council would clearly have to be based in Workington.  This involves significant journeys from the south (Millom) and the north (Longtown).  It should be noted that many in Carlisle do not identify with West Cumbria.  People from Carlisle will hate this proposal.  They want their council to be based in Carlisle – which is clearly impossible with this model because of the travel times and the realities of the journeys for those travelling from south Copeland.

Proposal 2: Submitted by South Lakeland and Barrow District Councils

Carlisle/Eden/Allerdale/Copeland     South Lakeland/Barrow/Lancaster City

The questions are as follows:
1. Is this proposal likely to improve local government and service delivery across each area? Specifically, is it likely to improve council services, will it give greater value for money, generate savings, provide stronger strategic and local leadership and create more sustainable structures? 

No: This proposal is very likely to improve services in the South Lakeland/Barrow/Lancaster City.  But the northern authority is not viable because of the geographical issues with it (see below). The southern Unitary would involve complex boundary changes involving a different County which is not the subject of this consultation.

2. Where it is proposed that services will be delivered on a different geographic footprint than currently, through some form of joint arrangements, is this likely to improve those services? Such services may for example be children’s services, waste collection and disposal, adult health and social care, planning, and transport. 

No: Again, this proposal is very likely to improve services in the South Lakeland/Barrow/Lancaster City area.  But the northern authority is not viable because of the geographical issues with it (see below). The southern Unitary would involve complex boundary changes involving a different County which is not the subject of this consultation. Negotiations to remove Lancaster City from the County of Lancashire might be expected to take some time (and end in failure).

3. Is this proposal also likely to impact local public services delivered by others, such as police, fire and rescue, and health services?

 Yes: This proposal creates new authority boundaries that cut across all these services in new ways.  The situations with police services and fire and rescue services are much worse than for the other proposals because this proposal crosses county boundaries.  The situation for health services is better because this proposal closely mirrors the boundaries of health authorities.  

4. Do you support this proposal from the councils? 

 No: The Carlisle/Allerdale/Copeland/Eden authority is probably not viable  – the South Lakeland/Barrow/Lancaster City entity is almost certainly not achievable in practice.

5. Do the unitary councils proposed by this proposal represent a credible geography? 

No: Where would the Carlisle/Allerdale/Copeland/Eden council be based?  Penrith would probably be the most viable place for travel times as far as the other Districts are concerned, but it would pose very difficult challenges for Copeland residents and would create more difficult journeys than would exist for a single unitary authority.

(The other alternative would be Kendal which is a long way outside this authority footprint!  Is there any precedent for the chamber of a council being a long way outside that council?) 

Proposal 3: Submitted by Carlisle City Council and Eden Borough Council

Carlisle/Eden/Allerdale           Copeland/South Lakeland/Barrow

1. Is this proposal likely to improve local government and service delivery across each area? Specifically, is it likely to improve council services, will it give greater value for money, generate savings, provide stronger strategic and local leadership and create more

sustainable structures?

No: These very small unitary authorities will struggle to compete to recruit high calibre staff to run complex services.

2. Where it is proposed that services will be delivered on a different geographic footprint than currently, through some form of joint

arrangements, is this likely to improve those services? Such services may for example be children’s services, waste collection and disposal, adult health and social care, planning, and transport.

Yes: At present there are substantial problems with Allerdale and Copeland Borough Councils. This proposal would split them and create centres of power in Carlisle and Kendal which would be likely to improve the administration of these areas.

3. Is this proposal also likely to impact local public services delivered by others, such as police, fire and rescue, and health services?

Yes: This proposal creates new authority boundaries that cut across all these services in new ways.

4. Do you support this proposal from the councils

No: Potential savings are small and do not outweigh the risks of having minimally sized authorities which are likely to struggle to recruit expert staff, the trauma of

reorganisation and the issues associated with geography.

5. Do the unitary councils proposed by this proposal represent a credible geography?

No: Travel times are as credible as the single unitary authority proposal (they are very similar). It should be remembered that travel times for Councillors in Copeland

are already (and would remain) substantially greater than those for councillors anywhere else in England. However there is a very substantial extra problem with

this proposal, which is that it splits Allerdale and Copeland. These are the two authorities that are closest in identity to each other, and which share many services

because their key services centres (Workington and Whitehaven) are so close to each other. It is therefore cultural and a practical nonsense to split them from

each other.

Proposal 4: Submitted by Cumbria County Council

Single Unitary Authority for Cumbria

1. Is this proposal likely to improve local government and service delivery across each area? Specifically, is it likely to improve council services, will it give greater value for money, generate savings, provide stronger strategic and local leadership and create more sustainable structures? 

Yes: On the positive side of this, the route by which local service provision would exist (by integrating districts with county local area committees) is clear, logical and credible.  This would allow the two local committees for West Cumbria to share resources and work together in an integrated way that is currently not possible when they are serving different District Councils.

The coverage of the new unitary would be on a scale (significantly over 300,000) consistent with the minimum suggested in the consultation document. Experience from other single unitaries (such as Cornwall) is that the additional bargaining power would give the new unitary influence and effect useful economies of scale. The additional resources and powers which might be devolved to the new authority would be a clear benefit.

There is no benefit anticipated from the appointment of a Mayor, which would simply reduce anticipated savings and raise risks about the strength of local democracy.

Our concerns about this proposal apply to all the proposals for unitary authorities – which are how representative democracy will exist and where the councillors (particularly in West Cumbria) will actually come from.  Clearly significant works also needs to be done on the roles of parish councils.

2. Where it is proposed that services will be delivered on a different geographic footprint than currently, through some form of joint arrangements, is this likely to improve those services? Such services may for example be children’s services, waste collection and disposal, adult health and social care, planning, and transport. 

Yes: Local representation should be maintained by merging local area committees with district authorities. These can then evolve to better fit the needs of local areas and deliver potential efficiencies. 

3. Is this proposal also likely to impact local public services delivered by others, such as police, fire and rescue, and health services?

No: The geographical footprint does not change significantly.

4. Do you support this proposal from the councils? 

Yes: However we find it profoundly disturbing that the problems associated with creating healthy democratic engagement and representation (when there are no local authority councils that meet in the evenings) have not been addressed.

5. Do the unitary councils proposed by this proposal represent a credible geography? 

 Yes: This geography has been proven to work, however the stresses on West Cumbria’s capacity to generate councillors who are prepared to travel the substantial distances involved needs attention. 

Rebecca The Maths Lady

Modern, social media empowered, far-right populism first managed to use the Conservative Party as its trojan horse in 2010, when Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings shut down consultation and all expert voice in the development of education policy (despite having no mandate for this from the manifesto voters had endorsed).

They ran highly organised propaganda to convince the public that they were giving ‘power back to teachers’ in order to distract from the fact that they were concentrating all control of policy and money into their own hands.

Instead of being in any way functional, they pursued pet policies. Many will remember Michael Gove sending bibles to schools. This winter Mark Jenkinson MP has replicated his actions – sending books to primary schools instead of listening to them and working to ensure that their issues and needs are addressed.

During the coalition government I worked tirelessly with the Lib Dems to push back this tide of ignorance, ensuring Gove, Truss and Gibb were removed from the DFE and politicians who listened to evidence came in, establishing the pupil premium and setting up the Chartered College of Teaching to nurture professionalism and representation in teaching. But that tide came crashing in in 2015 and schools have been drowning in ignorant policy ever since.

I still work with the Lib Dems and the Chartered College of Teaching to improve government policy. I also work hard to offer primary teachers some of the support they need on my ‘RebeccaTheMathsLady’ YouTube channel.

Rebecca Hanson
County Councillor (Cockermouth North)

Climate & Ecology Bill

Last week, Cockermouth Town Council were asked to consider whether they would support the cross-party Climate and Ecology Bill, which calls for a citizen’s assembly to support the work of our government on the climate crisis.  Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem and Independent Councillors voted to add Cockermouth’s support for this important step forward.  Mark Jenkinson MP was the only elected representative present who opposed it.

In his comments he could have suggested an alternative way forward.  He could have expressed his commitment to tackling the climate crisis in other ways.  His silence spoke volumes.

As Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey, promoted the UK’s work addressing the climate crisis whist simultaneously ensuring the UK had a clear plan to ‘keep the lights on’.

Last week a huge number of people in the USA worked tirelessly to depose extreme right-wing populism and replace it with evidence- and value-led politics.  Every atom inside me  hopes that T&S readers will join political parties and will do the same.  

Rebecca Hanson
County Councillor (Cockermouth North)

Confronting the challenges of 2021

First. may I wish your readers best wishes for 2021. This new year will be critical for us all; we must move forward after the difficulties of 2020. There are three immediate challenges facing us; the health crisis, the new relationship with Europe and our serious UK leadership vacuum.

It now appears probable that we will overcome the coronavirus pandemic. Despite recent setbacks, the arrival of the Covid-19 vaccines, together with the outstanding work of the NHS, gives cause for optimism. We applaud all who have worked so hard professionally or as volunteers, supporting all those affected.

The effects of the final arrangements to leave the EU will be deeply damaging. Liberal Democrats believe the decision to pull out of Europe was a historic national error. Many seem to have forgotten that the initiative to create a more united Europe stemmed from determination to end centuries of hostility between European states. The key task remains; to find the best way now to work amicably and closely with the EU.

In many aspects this Brexit deal makes us poorer. There is more red tape when we were promised less. We were promised full access to the single market, which we will not have, especially for our biggest export market of financial services. London is likely to lose its pre-eminent financial position in Europe. We were promised certainty for business, but the whole deal is under review every 5 years.

We also face the cultural loss of Erasmus student exchanges, less convenient travel in Europe, impediments to businesses attracting much-needed overseas workers, loss of mutual recognition of qualifications. The damage to our shared security against terrorism and criminality gives great concern. 

Management of these vital issues by government has been lamentable. Decisions about managing the pandemic have been late or mistaken, from supply of PPE equipment to the hopeless planning for tracking and tracing. We were promised parliamentary sovereignty to deal with the Brexit issue but the whole 1200+ page document was pushed through parliament in one day without providing MPs time to read it. I can find no evidence of careful attention to detail or of systematic strategic planning by this Johnson government. Their search for ‘sovereignty’ simply entails loss of influence, and may ultimately tear apart the UK. 

The key failure in 2020 has been that of effective leadership. Our leaders now confront equally demanding challenges of business recession, massive unemployment, and the approaching likelihood of catastrophic climate change. Is this inept government capable of tackling these challenges? Their track record suggests not.

Roger Putnam

President, West Cumbria Liberal Democrats

MPs Covid Response (or lack thereof)

Over recent weeks the social media feeds of most MPs (certainly all Lib Dem MPs) have shown the very detailed work they are doing to map exactly what is going on with Covid-19 vaccination in their constituency. You can read about how they are acting to ensure that bottlenecks for vaccination are addressed. You can read the letters they are writing to the Secretary of State for Health which precisely describe what’s working, what’s not working so well and what needs to happen next.

Last week Sir Ed Davey won his battle to ensure that voluntary carers who need to be vaccinated to carry out their caring were added to the category of carers eligible for early vaccination.

Meanwhile Mark Jenkinson MP’s social media feed shows a constant trail of attempts to associate him and the Conservative party with positive things which have happened that he clearly had nothing to do with. The announcement of the accreditation of the Moderna vaccine with a Conservative logo on it was typical. Mark also shared his Radio Cumbria Interview where he launched a profoundly disturbing attack on Mike Zeller. There was still no evidence of Mark doing any normal constituency work at all.

The news coverage of the storming of the Capitol Building in Washington brought to life how damaging this kind of politics is.

No Conservative Councillor in the Workington Constituency should be prepared to associate themselves with the kind of politics Mark Jenkinson practices. They should either sort him and his office out or they should not stand as Conservatives until he is gone.

Rebecca Hanson
County Councillor (Cockermouth North)

Support Our Local Primary Schools

I had hoped that my letter (T&S 31 Dec) which raised concerns about Mark Jenkinson MP’s habit of launching toxic political attacks, rather than representing the views and needs of his constituents, would be a wake-up call to him.

I was therefore holding my head in my hands in despair last weekend when he launched a blistering attack on Cumbria County Council for stating that it would offer support to primary school heads who were struggling to reopen for all children this week.

I was greatly heartened to see that Mark Jenkinson MP’s Facebook page was swamped with comments criticising his conduct. Thank you West Cumbria! Please do keep going. We need to do absolutely everything we can to help our MP to begin to understand that when he accuses others of political messaging and inciting panic in cases where they are very clearly just trying to navigate incredibly stressful situations, his behaviour is absolutely unacceptable.

Rebecca Hanson

County Councillor (Cockermouth North)

Mark Jenkinson MP – A Year in Review

I read Mark Jenkinson’s review of his first year as MP (T&S 17 Dec) with interest to see what he has used the power and resources invested in him to deliver.

Quite rightly, he did not claim responsibility for any of very many achievements of local people that he listed. However, I am startled that he did not take the opportunity to give himself the credit he deserves for the truly game-changing things he has achieved.

For example, when many were asking for help with the PPE crisis during the first wave of Covid-19 with apparent desperation, Mark was there, on the radio, to reassure us that there was no crisis, and that the pretence of a crisis was invented by the political motives of Royal College of Nursing.

And when schools appeared to be on their knees trying to cope with un-consulted and undeliverable government edicts, Mark was there on social media to explain to us that the stresses schools were under were caused by them being bullied by their threatening unions.

For as long as I can remember, when I (and others in responsible positions) have worked to resolve complex issues, we have always been able to rely on our Cumbrian MPs from all parties to provide us with wise support and to work to ensure Cumbria’s needs were represented in policy at national level whenever necessary. It has therefore been a revelation to discover what it’s like to be completely stonewalled by my MP’s office which appears to be ineffective in anything but spouting propaganda.

In these dark times I have still been inspired by the hard work and selflessness of professionals and volunteers in so many areas of West Cumbrian life. I’d like to express my gratitude to Labour and Independent politicians, including Baroness Sue Hayman, who have worked with me on complex issues in 2020. But most of all I’d like to thank the many local Liberal Democrats who’ve stepped up to the plate and have worked hard and supported me to get important things done during this very difficult year. If you’d like to be part of a movement of people who are fighting hard for evidence- and value-led politics you’d be most warmly welcome to join us.

Rebecca Hanson
County Councillor (Cockermouth North)

Bubble closures at Cockermouth School

Those of us with children at Cockermouth School have today received notification of a third bubble closure (in quick succession) as a consequence of a positive coronavirus test.

Some schools with rising infection levels decided to shut a week early (ie this Friday) and teach an extra week in the summer, both to ensure that any isolation periods for children and staff would be completed by Christmas (so that everyone gets a break during the Christmas holidays) and also to help reduce the rate of spread of Coronavirus at this most critical time in the pandemic.

But the government intervened to ban schools doing this.

Please do write to your MP to express your thoughts on this.

Lib Dems withholding support on tier system amid Tory rebellion

A party press release brings the news…

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey has slammed the Government for failing to build a plan to “bring the virus under control and keep people safe” and warned that Ministers must address growing concerns before his Party can vote for the new system.

In a letter to the Prime Minister ahead of the vote on the new measures in Parliament, the Liberal Democrat leader made clear that “without the assurances the public need” the Liberal Democrats “cannot in all conscience vote for this plan.”

The Liberal Democrats have called on the Prime Minister to first address a series of concerns before the party’s MPs will vote for a new system. They include:

  • Full release of the scientific evidence underpinning the tier system, including economic and health impact assessments.
  • An ongoing commitment that tier decisions and local rules will be made in partnership with local authorities, and subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
  • A new approach to the failed test, trace and isolate system that partners properly with local authorities on tracing, and provides proper incentives for people to isolate, to keep people safe and prevent new surges.
  • Urgent financial support for pubs, including removing the requirement for alcohol sales to be accompanied by a substantial meal in outdoor areas.
  • A clearer exit route from tiering with a comprehensive strategy to roll out a vaccine.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said:

As it stands, we cannot in all conscience vote for this unsafe plan. The Government has failed once again to put together a plan to bring the virus under control and keep people safe.

The new tier system is arbitrary, confused and chaotic and the Government has failed yet again to deliver the test, trace and isolate strategy to beat this virus and end this pandemic.

Boris Johnson’s incompetence is now clear for all to see – with his failure to engage local authorities, failure to explain the criteria for the tiers and failure to communicate with the public and keep our trust.

What the country needs is a transparent system of local restrictions, an exit plan with a comprehensive strategy to roll out vaccines and a test, trace and isolate system that works.

Time and time again, the Government has squandered the sacrifices the British people have made through Ministers’ unbelievable incompetence.

Full text of Ed Davey’s letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Prime Minister,

The country is desperate to get life back to normal, particularly given how much has already been sacrificed.

For months, Liberal Democrats have been urging the Government to get to grips with test, trace and isolate and deliver what has been continually promised. Getting that right is the best hope we have until a vaccine is ready, but Ministers have been far too slow to ramp up testing, have failed to work properly and consistently with local authorities on tracing and have been utterly lamentable in implementing a workable scheme to encourage people to isolate.

Moreover, given less than 50% of people understood the rules last time, it is clear you and your Ministers have again failed to put together a plan to bring the virus under control and keep people safe.

The new tier system that you are putting before Parliament is arbitrary, confused and chaotic. It has been created without proper engagement with local authorities while the criteria for the tiers has lost the trust of the country.

For the Liberal Democrats to continue to support Government restrictions – as up till now we have throughout the pandemic – we need to see:-

  • Full release of the scientific evidence underpinning the tier system, including economic and health impact assessments.
  • An ongoing commitment that tier decisions and local rules will be made in partnership with local authorities, and subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
  • A new approach to the failed test, trace and isolate system, that partners properly with local authorities on tracing, and provides proper incentives for people to isolate, to keep people safe and prevent new surges.
  • Urgent financial support for pubs, including removing the requirement for alcohol sales to be accompanied by a substantial meal in outdoor areas.
  • A clearer exit route from tiering with a comprehensive strategy to roll out a vaccine.

I look forward to your response.

Ed Davey
Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Top Awards for West Cumbria Lib Dems

Two highly respected West Cumbrian Liberal Democrats have been awarded president’s honours for their exceptional service.

Elizabeth Barraclough is a high-profile environmentalist in Keswick who served as town, Allerdale and County Councillor for Keswick until she retired. Elizabeth was well known for cycling round the Keswick area listening to everyone and getting everything sorted out.

Roger Putnam is hugely respected across Copeland for his dignified political service and wise advice and comment over many years. His core passion is for outdoor education, however his detailed policy work on challenging topics such as nuclear energy is highly respected across the party.

Both Roger and Elizabeth are still very active within West Cumbria Liberal Democrats – Roger as party secretary and Elizabeth as honorary local party president.

West Cumbria Liberal Democrats Chair Stephen Barnes said: “Roger and Elizabeth are inspirational role models to those of us who are passionate about dignified, evidence-led, values-based politics in West Cumbria. It is unusual for two awards to be made but in this case, we felt unable to nominate one without the other. I’m delighted this has been recognised at the top of the party.”

Cumbria County Councillor for Cockermouth North Rebecca Hanson said:
“It’s difficult to describe how hard both Elizabeth and Roger have worked for West Cumbria. They’ve always both been phenomenal support and inspiration for me.”

Elizabeth Barraclough
Roger Putnam