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. 

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