Council gives green light for local government reform in Cumbria

Cumbria County Council will tell the Government that a single unitary authority should be the future of local government in the area.

Members of the authority’s cabinet agreed unanimously today to submit proposals and a business case to Simon Clarke, the regional growth and local government minister, after he held talks with the county’s council leaders about reform and devolution this summer.

The county council believes its proposals for a single unitary authority could result in savings of £24million a year but there is no consensus between councils and alternative options which could include two or more unitary authorities and an elected mayor for Cumbria have also been mooted.

Cumbria County Council leader Stewart Young said: “I believe the financial case is compelling and important given the challenges we are all going to face post-COVID-19 and post-Brexit.

“I also believe this is a real opportunity to rethink not just how we deliver services but how we engage with communities and scrutiny will be looking at that in more detail over the next few months; the role of parish and town councils and the future of local committees.

“There is no doubt that the public is generally confused about who is responsible for what in the current system and I don’t blame them for that.

“That often leads to a lack of accountability which in turn leads to a lack of engagement.

“I believe this is an opportunity not just to reorganise local government but to revitalise local democracy.”

Mr Young admitted he remained “philosophical” after three previous attempts to reform local government in the county failed.

He said once the plans were submitted it would be the Government’s decision which if any of the proposals were accepted.

Councillor Keith Little welcomed the plans and said the current system could be difficult to explain.

He added: “I think the time has really come in both the economic and environmental situation that Cumbria finds itself in today that we need to go to a single authority with strong leadership and therefore I fully support these proposals today and welcome them.”

Councillor Patricia Bell also supported the proposals but was “disappointed” reform was being looked at while councils were facing Brexit and the pandemic.

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