Leaders urged to consider idea of electing new mayor of Cumbria

Leaders are being informed about the options available to Cumbria following the reorganisation of its councils.

The local government reorganisation process was triggered by ministers to ensure the best possible investment, leadership and strategy for the county. LGR saw the creation of Cumberland Council in Carlisle, Allerdale and Copeland and Westmorland & Furness Council in Eden, South Lakeland and Barrow-in-Furness.

It is argued that unitary councils have more sway when bidding for investment at the top table. Leaders of the new authorities, elected in May, now have a number of governance options available, each hailed as bringing investment and power devolved from Westminster.

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A document reveals that the councils of Cumberland and Westmorland could create a joint committee; combined authority, or a mayoral combined authority. A joint committee would be a voluntary association of councils allowing the authorities to pool resources.

The combined authority’s responsibilities include strategic thinking, focussing on economic development and skills, controlling some transport functions and determining how Shared Prosperity Fund cash is spent.

A Mayor of Cumbria would also take on the role of LEPs but would gain responsibilities for police and fire and developing place-based revenue building strategies. Police and Crime Commissioner Peter McCall believes a mayoral authority would be the best thing for the county.

He said: “I think the opportunities for devolution and the inward investment from Government are the real prize in that, if you look at what happened in Teeside, when you look at what Andy Burnham has done in Manchester. It’s a shame Cumbria isn’t even at the table when these things are being discussed.”

The PCC believes a combined authority, with or without a mayor, would bring a strategic approach to transport, housing and the emergency services.

“The combined authority could potentially bring together police, fire and the rest of it which then leaves the unitary authorities to get on with the day-to-day more sharply.”

The report produced for leading councillors claims that joint committees and non-mayoral combined authorities could bring £24.1 billion into the area through Towns Fund deals and the Shared Prosperity Fund. This figure rises to £29.8 billion under the leadership of a mayor.

The Liberal Democrats are on the fence about the idea of a metro mayor. Councillor Virginia Taylor, leader of Eden Council and a member of the Westmorland & Furness executive said: “We’re keeping our options open.

“We will certainly consider it, we’re not unilaterally opposed to the mayor. The metro mayor model at the minute brings more powers than any other. When we get a clear offer of what’s on the table, we’ll make a decision.”

Deputy leader of Cumberland Council Lisa Brown has said that the focus should be on ensuring the new authorities can provide the best possible services for residents on day one, rather than “the next politician.”

Lancs Live – Cumbria