The Government has launched a consultation on “locally-led” proposals for unitary local government submitted by councils in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset.
Following a formal invitation, Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick received eight proposals: four from councils in Cumbria and two each from councils in Somerset and North Yorkshire.
As a result of the consultation launch, the district and county council elections due to be held in May this year in the three areas will be rescheduled to May 2022.
The proposals mean moving from a two-tier system of county and district councils, to a system where there is a single tier for any given area. They are:
- Allerdale and Copeland jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: West Cumbria comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough, Carlisle City and Copeland Borough Councils; and East Cumbria comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, Eden District and South Lakeland District Councils.
- Barrow and South Lakeland jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: 'The Bay' comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, South Lakeland District and Lancaster City Councils; and North Cumbria comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough, Carlisle City, Copeland Borough and Eden District Councils.
- Carlisle and Eden jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: North Cumbria comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough, Carlisle City and Eden District Councils; and South Cumbria comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, Copeland Borough and South Lakeland District Councils.
- Cumbria County Council submitted a proposal for a single unitary council for the area of Cumbria County.
- Six of the seven districts within North Yorkshire (all bar Hambleton) proposed two unitary councils (East and West) - the East comprising Ryedale, Scarborough, Selby districts and the current unitary of York, and the West comprising Craven, Hambleton, Harrogate and Richmondshire districts.
- North Yorkshire County Council proposed a single unitary on the footprint of the existing administrative county, to operate alongside the existing unitary City of York Council. City of York has backed this option.
- The four district councils - Mendip, Sedgemoor, Somerset West and Taunton and South Somerset - jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: Eastern Somerset comprising the area covered by Mendip and South Somerset District Councils; and Western Somerset comprising area covered by Sedgemoor and Somerset West & Taunton District Councils.
- Somerset County Council submitted a proposal for a single unitary council for the area of Somerset County.
The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) consultation asks a number of questions about each proposal around value for money, proposed geography of the council and impact of the proposal on local services.
It said rescheduling local elections avoided the possibility of the electorate “being asked to vote for councils while at the same time they are being given the opportunity to express their views on the possible abolition of those councils”. It would also avoid members potentially being elected to serve short terms.
The elections for local Police and Crime Commissioners, as well as elections to any town or parish councils, will continue to take place in May 2021.
Mr Jenrick said: “I have always been clear that any restructuring of local government must be locally-led and will not involve top-down solutions from government.
“Now that councils in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset have submitted their proposals, I am pleased residents, businesses and service providers will have the opportunity to have their say on what will work best for their area.
“Where there is local support, changing the structure of local government can offer better value for money and improved services for residents.”
The MHCLG said the Local Government Secretary would consider all proposals following the consultation before making a decision about which option, if any, to implement in each of the three areas. This would be subject to Parliamentary approval.
The consultation period will run for eight weeks until 19 April.
The Ministry said that subject to Parliamentary approval, it would expect any new unitary council to be fully operational from April 2023 with transitional arrangements expected to be in place from 2022, including elections in May 2022 to the shadow or continuing councils.