The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, has chosen his preferred proposals for local government reorganisation in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset.
A number of proposals had been put forward after the minister issued invitations in October 2020 under the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 to principal councils in the three areas. A statutory consultation on all eight locally-led proposals was launched in February this year.
Four proposals were received from councils in Cumbria, two from councils in North Yorkshire and two from councils in Somerset.
In a written ministerial statement Jenrick said he had assessed each proposal against the three criteria set out in the invitation sent to all the principal councils. These criteria provided that for a proposal to be implemented, that proposal was likely to improve local government and service delivery across its area; commanded a good deal of local support as assessed in the round overall across the whole area of the proposal; and any unitary councils to be established had a credible geography.
The proposals to be implemented are subject to Parliamentary approval.
The proposal to be implemented is for two unitary councils - an East unitary council covering the existing areas of Barrow, Eden and South Lakeland and a West unitary council covering the existing areas of Allerdale, Carlisle and Copeland.
The minister said he had considered that the proposal for a single unitary council for the whole of Cumbria also met all three of the criteria. “However, having regard to the size and geography of Cumbria, including the geographic barriers of lakes and mountains, and the rurality of its population, I have decided that it would be more appropriate to implement the East West unitary proposal, allowing for more localised decision making, which could be important given the geography of Cumbria.”
A proposal for two unitary councils – one council comprising the existing areas of Barrow, South Lakeland and Lancaster City and the other council comprising the existing areas of Allerdale, Carlisle, Copeland and Eden – did not meet the improving local government and service delivery and credible geography criteria, Jenrick said.
The Secretary of State also decided not to implement the proposal for two unitary councils – one council comprising the existing areas of Allerdale, Carlisle and Eden and the other council comprising the existing areas of Barrow, Copeland and South Lakeland – as he considered that this proposal did not meet the credible geography criterion.
The Secretary of State has decided to implement the proposal for a single unitary council for the whole of the existing administrative county of North Yorkshire, saying he considered that this proposal “strongly met all three of the criteria”. [The City of York Council will remain in place]
A proposal for two unitary councils – one council comprising the existing areas of Ryedale, Scarborough, Selby and the current unitary of York, and the other council comprising the existing areas of Craven, Hambleton, Harrogate and Richmondshire – “did not meet the improving local government and service delivery and credible geography criteria”.
The minister has backed the proposal for a single unitary council for the whole of the existing administrative county of Somerset, saying this “met all three of the criteria, strongly meeting the improving local government and service delivery criterion”.
A proposal for two unitary councils - one council comprising the existing areas of Mendip District and South Somerset and the other council comprising the existing areas of Sedgemoor and Somerset West & Taunton – “did not meet the improving local government and service delivery and credible geography criteria”.
The Secretary of State said he now intended to seek Parliamentary approval for the necessary secondary legislation to implement his decisions.
He intends to lay the draft structural changes Order before Parliament around the turn of the year and they will include provisions for appropriate transitional arrangements, including for elections in May 2022 for the future unitary councils; for cancelling elections currently scheduled for May 2022 for existing councils, including those rescheduled from May 2021 as a result of the orders made earlier this year; and for the unitary councils to assume the full range of local authority responsibilities on 1 April 2023, when predecessor councils would be abolished.
The Secretary of State said: “Establishing these new unitary councils will be a significant step towards ensuring the people and businesses across Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset can in future have the sustainable high-quality local services they deserve. I expect all the existing councils and their partners to work collaboratively and constructively together to drive forward the process of establishing unitary councils and transforming local service delivery for the residents, businesses and local communities of these three areas.
“I would like to reiterate that Government will not impose top-down government solutions. We will continue, as I am now currently doing, to follow a locally-led approach where councils can develop proposals which have strong local support. However, restructuring is only one of the different ways that councils can streamline and make savings, and deliver strong leadership. This has been the Government’s consistent approach since 2010, when top-down restructuring was stopped through the Local Government Act 2010.”
Jenrick said the Government was committed to devolving power to people and places across the UK. “We are open to devolution where there is strong local leadership, whether supported by two tier local government, unitary structures or various joint arrangements. Our plans for doing this and strengthening local accountable leadership will be set out in the forthcoming Levelling Up White Paper.”