COUNTY COUNCIL IN FAVOUR OF UNITARY AUTHORITY
CUMBRIA County Council has voted to proceed with an official bid to adopt a single, or unitary, council for the whole county.
Following approval at a full council meeting on Thursday, the bid to scrap the current two-tier system of county and district councils in favour of a new unitary Cumbria Council will be submitted to the Department for Communities and Local Government for consideration.
The official deadline for bid submissions set out in the Government’s Strong and Prosperous Communities White Paper is 25th January and the council has now agreed to submit its bid document, “One Council, One Vision, One Voice” within that deadline.
The bid has received cross-party support, with all three group leaders backing the submission. The vote passed by a majority of 58 to 11.
“One Council, One Vision, One Voice” sets out a model for a brand new local authority which could save tens of millions of pounds and reduce council tax bills.
It claims that scrapping the current two-tier set up of Cumbria County Council and six district councils would save £22.2 million a year, and sets out how that money could be spent improving services and keeping down council tax increases.
Council tax bills across Cumbria would be harmonised at the lowest level in the county and then increases would be fixed at four per cent. or less for the first three years of the new authority. The county council says the cost of the changes would pay for themselves over 21⁄2 years well within the five-year payback timeframe set by the Government.
The report also sets out how around 100 newly elected councillors would work on 20 to 30 community boards across the county. The community boards would work at a much more local level than current district councils and would have the power to shape and run local services and get to grips with local priorities by involving the elected members and other organisations such as parish councils and the voluntary sector.
The Department for Communities and Local Government is expected to announce by the end of March which bids can proceed further through a 12-week consultation process with key stakeholders.
Leader of Cumbria County Council Tim Stoddard (Con., Kirkby Stephen), said: “This is a historic moment for Cumbria. I am proud of all the councillors who voted in favour of this. They have showed they have the vision to see what is an excellent outline for a more progressive, more representative and more cost-effective kind of local government for Cumbria. I applaud a bold and far-sighted decision and also applaud the building of an incredibly strong case which we are now putting to Government.”
Deputy leader Joan Stocker (Lib. Dem., Windermere) added: “This decision is a vote in favour of clarity, leadership and accountability. It is also a vote in favour of every single household in Cumbria, because every village, every town, every city will feel the benefit of a single council.
“They will see an end to the confusion caused by having a maze of organisations to negotiate when they want to access services. They will see an end to wasting public money through needless duplication of resources. And they will see an end to Cumbria struggling to fight its corner on the national and international stage because it is too busy fighting with itself.”
Labour leader Stewart Young said: “I am very pleased that councillors have put aside party political differences to grasp the opportunity offered by the Government to make things better for Cumbria. I have no doubt that these plans for Cumbria deserve Government backing because they lay out a win-win situation of the public having more say in their local area for less council tax. It is the right outcome for Cumbria and a good day for the county.”
The council said it had backing from the bosses of many other public organisations, including Cumbria Primary Care Trust, Cumbria Partnership NHS Trust, Cumbria Constabulary, Cumbria Tourism, Cumbria Learning and Skills Council, Northwest Regional Develop-ment Agency, Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and Industry, council partners Amey and Capita and the “qualified support” of Voluntary Action Cumbria.
Copies of “One Council, One Vision, One Voice” will be available in the county’s libraries and also online at www.cumbria.gov.uk/one council, a new web-based guide on the potential switch to a unitary council.