Everything you need to know about the changes in our department

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Parliamentary debates: John Stevenson MP, Leveling-up Minister Kemi Badenoch MP and Mark Jenkinson MP

OUR COUNTY is set to experience historic change in 2023 when Cumbria ceases to exist as a local authority area and is split in two.

The local government reorganization will see Cumbria’s existing seven councils abolished by 2023 and replaced by two new unitary councils.

Cumberland Council will take over as authority in Carlisle, Allerdale and Copeland.

Westmorland and Furness Council will take over as governing authority in Eden, South Lakeland and Barrow-in-Furness.

Unitary councils hold both the powers of a borough council and a county council and are the preferred model of Conservative government.

Planning powers are currently the responsibility of Borough and District Councils, but motorways in Cumbria are the responsibility of County Council.

The creation of a unitary board brings together all the responsibilities and all the decision-making powers under one roof.

The vehicle for this is to create a single tier of local government for Cumbria which came close this week in the Houses of Parliament.

John Stevenson, MP for Carlisle, was appointed last week to join the first delegated legislation committee alongside Workington MP Mark Jenkinson.

And this week the committee heard the Cumbria (Structural Changes) Order 2022 – which enshrines the county’s planned changes into law.

Presenting the order to the committee, the Minister for Leveling-up, Kemi Badenoch MP, said: “The implementation of this proposal and the establishment of these unitary authorities will enable strong leadership and commitment both at the strategic level and with communities at the most local level.

Tory leaders say single-tier local government puts counties at the top of the list when bidding for funding.

Ms Badenoch said: ‘This will pave the way, as foreseen in the leveling up white paper, for a significant devolution deal involving a directly elected mayor for Cumbria if that is an option local leaders wish to pursue.’

Mr. Stevenson said: “I am delighted to have been invited to join the committee.

“I am very clear that local government reform for Cumbria is a positive step forward.

“The current system is clearly not working for our county, and the creation of two unitary authorities will undoubtedly improve the performance of local government, allowing for strong leadership and the ability to make decisions on our own.”

After being passed unanimously by the committee, the structural changes order will be debated in the House of Commons on Wednesday 9 March.

The process is moving fast after Cumbria County Council’s legal challenge was denied for a second time on Tuesday February 22.

The Labor leadership of Cumbria County Council has called for a judicial review of the process in 2021, saying it was a politically motivated power grab by the UK government.

Council leader Stewart Young has expressed concern that the general public has not been properly consulted on the changes.

But the High Court ruled it was ‘not reasonably arguable’ and after the second judicial review was refused, the county council said there would be no appeal.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat group and half of the ruling coalition, Peter Thornton, said: “I am glad that this issue now appears to be resolved and I hope we can now continue to work to create two viable councils. and effective for Cumbria.

While not supporting the legal challenge, Cllr Thornton said the Liberal Democrat group understood Labor’s concerns and did not want to break up the alliance over a difference of opinion.

During the committee debate, MP Fiona Bruce said: ‘To over 3,000, of which 2,362 I note were from residents and basically, it seems, in favour. I wonder if the minister could perhaps tell us how many people live in those areas altogether.

“The reason I ask this question is that of course Cheshire was turned into two unitary councils a few years ago and as an MP for a constituency in the Cheshire area many locals felt that they had not really been adopted, in regard to the imposition, in their view, of the two unitary councils.

“What I’m trying to point out is that there are a lot more residents than these answers and it’s really important that there is liaison, communication with the residents to really make sure that they understand the benefits that would come from this change, so there’s not a feeling that they haven’t really been properly engaged and a resentment that can last a few years.

Ms Badenoch said: ‘The answer is that in Cumbria there are 499,000 people so yes of course in terms of the number of people who responded to the consultation it is a small number but we know across the government that those who respond to consultations tend to be the most interested in the topic and can often provide a representative perspective.

Elections are due to be held on May 5 which will appoint councilors to two shadow authorities – one for each of the new councils.

Shadow Authorities will operate alongside existing councils for the first year before Vesting Day on April 1, 2023, when Unitary Authorities will take full control.

Cumberland’s new council will have 46 ward councilors who will initially serve in the Shadow Authority until the day of acquisition, before serving a further four-year term.

This means that although the shadow authorities will serve alongside the existing councils for a year, the elections in May will determine who will take control of Cumberland Council and Westmorland & Furness Council for five years.

The public can keep up to date with changes to the county by visiting: https://newcouncilsforcumbria.info/

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