An outline proposal to create a new unitary authority around Morecambe Bay has been submitted to Government.
The proposal was agreed by extraordinary meetings of the Full Councils of Barrow Borough Council, Lancaster City Council and South Lakeland District Council on November 5.
A new Bay authority could merge the three district councils and draw down certain powers from the county councils, to create a new single tier authority for the area responsible for local government functions.
Last month Government sent letters to councils in Cumbria inviting submissions on ‘locally-led proposals for unitary government’.
The formal invitation from Government is the first step in the legal process towards restructuring. A final more detailed case must be submitted to Government by 9 December. After that Government will decide which proposal to take forward.
We are now inviting feedback on the Bay unitary proposal that can be included in that more detailed case, and the information on this page provides more information about the proposal.
The Government committed to introducing a Devolution White Paper this year, encouraging local government reform, also referred to as Local Government Reorganisation (LGR).
On 9 October Government sent a letter to local authorities in Cumbria inviting them to submit proposals for new unitary authorities.
The Government has invited proposals that would replace the current two-tier system of county and district councils in Cumbria, with a single tier of local government.
The Government has requested initial proposal by 9 November 2020, and a full proposal by 9 December 2020.
The councils around the Bay area believe a unitary that merges Barrow Borough Council, Lancaster City Council and South Lakeland would be the best solution for the communities in those areas and this has been approved by Full Council meetings of each council. An initial proposal to this effect has now been submitted to Government.
A unitary council means a single local authority responsible for providing ALL local government services.
Currently, residents here are governed by a two-tier system, where local services are provided by ourselves and the county council. In our district there are also Town or Parish Councils in rural areas.
Unitary status would bring all the different services currently offered by all these organisations under ‘one roof’.
The proposed unitary authority, The Bay, consists of: Barrow-in-Furness Borough Council, Lancaster City Council and South Lakeland District Council areas.
Barrow-in-Furness BC and South Lakeland DC are two of the six district and borough councils that make up Cumbria County Council, based 50 miles away. Lancaster City Council is one of 12 district and borough councils that currently make up Lancashire.
There are some key things which residents rightfully expect from local government:
- Good quality services provided at a reasonable cost
- A council that is open and accountable to local residents
- A listening council, which is responsive to the wishes and priorities of the communities it serves
Under the current two-tier arrangements, this isn’t always what people experience. Working arrangements can be confusing, wasteful and inefficient.
For example, at the moment we are responsible for waste collection but the county council is responsible for waste disposal. We are responsible for the majority of off-street parking, but the county council is responsible for on-street parking. We provide leisure services, but the county council provide libraries and youth services. The list could go on…
In a unitary authority, all these services and more would be provided by one single, new organisation, making sure all these areas are joined-up and with the flexibility and efficiency to provide better services for our communities.
But why now? Surely councils should be concentrating on the Covid-19 response, not looking to reorganise?
The Leaders of the three councils have repeatedly said that, while they welcome the opportunity to talk about opportunities to improve local government, they do not consider that this is the right time. They have said that all our efforts at present should be focused on supporting our communities through the pandemic.
However, now that the Government has sent the invitation letter, the Leaders have said they owe it to those same communities to propose a solution they believe is in the area’s best interests, so the three councils are doing the necessary work to present a full proposal for a Bay unitary by the deadline of 9 December 2020.
Another option for could be multiple unitaries, staying within current county boundaries.
We believe that this is not the best solution, because it would artificially divide the Bay community and the existing shared economic and social geography.
Cumbria also does not have the population to sustain two unitary authorities within the reorganisation criteria.
The Leaders of the three councils are working together to develop a proposal that demonstrates the benefits of The Bay unitary authority when compared to the alternatives.
We are committed to consulting key stakeholders and most importantly the views of local residents on how we can make sure a new unitary works for its 320,000 local residents and 13,000 businesses that are the heart of The Bay.
The Bay proposal brings together three local authorities with shared geography and history, from which arise shared opportunities and challenges for our communities.
The Bay puts right the artificial boundary between historically linked areas, sitting alongside a new unitary authority for the four northern and western districts of Cumbria and viable arrangements for the rest of Lancashire to the south.
We are home to advanced manufacturing of strategic UK importance, a hub for clean energy generation, two universities and a world heritage site, which extends across new proposed boundaries. We are:
- A strong, closely-linked community and exceptional joint working across the three councils, and wider public services, covering the Bay area
- A functional economic geography, with 96% of the workforce both living and working in the area;
- Focused on the Bay – 76% of business and 90% of the population are within 7km (4 miles) of the Bay.
- Well-connected and local – direct public transport links to the Bay, compared to 50-mile drive to County Hall in Carlisle.
- The Bay is served by a single NHS Trust, is in the same postal and broadcast area and the three councils work closely through the Lancaster and South Cumbria Joint Committee, whose purpose it is to promote low carbon and socially inclusive and economic prosperity around The Bay.
The status quo: We don’t think this is a suitable option as county services can appear to be remote for our residents and the current arrangements do not best enable service transformation through partnership working aligned with the functional economic area and health services footprint.
Given Government announcements, is unlikely to enable optimal devolution of powers and resources.
Unitaries within county boundaries: This would not improve local government and service delivery and would artificially divide The Bay community, concentrating power in remote and less flexible county halls; it would move decision-making and service delivery further from local people and would create a democratic deficit and harm existing arrangements for local community engagement.
Cumbria also does not have the population to sustain two unitary authorities within the reorganisation criteria.
We can be guided by previous reorganisations in local government that have led to the creation of unitary councils elsewhere.
In these cases, the vast majority of employees simply transfer to the newly created body. This is to be expected because the work will need to continue as seamlessly as possible. Everyone would have the usual protection.
There will be opportunities for efficiencies in how services operate in the new organisation, but the clear intention is that would be achieved through better ways of working, not through significant staff reductions.
Barrow and South Lakeland are in Cumbria, Lancaster is in Lancashire - will the Government allow you to create a new council across county boundaries?
In the invitation letter from Government, it was made clear that the Government would consider proposals from ‘one or more districts in a county and one or more relevant adjoining areas’.
A cross-boundary authority around Morecambe Bay fits that criteria and we believe it is the best way forward for our three areas.
We should not be constrained by lines on a map. We should be looking to a solution that offers the most positive benefits for our communities, one that builds on existing relationships and connections, one that is ambitious and supports innovation and growth.
Barrow, Lancaster and South Lakeland already work together on economic initiatives through the Joint Committee and we believe there are opportunities to develop and build on that existing successful relationship.
The Lancaster and South Cumbria Joint Committee is a partnership between the three Bay local authorities and demonstrates that the councils already have a strong track record of collaborative working.
The three councils have been working together on economic initiatives since 2017 and formed the Joint Committee earlier this year to further develop that work.
The economic partnership has already achieved notable success when a joint submission to the Arts Council was accepted as one of only two “rural” bids in the UK to develop a pioneering ‘Cultural Compact’ around Morecambe Bay, harnessing cultural and creative opportunities to boost the local economy.
The Joint Committee has also developed the Bay Prosperity and Resilience Strategy, which is seeking Government funding over the next two years to jointly develop plans and projects to further unlock the Bay area’s economic potential.
Clearly it is more difficult to engage directly with our communities at the current time, due to the Covid-19 restrictions, and we have also only got a limited time to consult to meet the Government deadlines.
Our online survey provides the opportunity for residents to have their say on the proposals.
The results of this survey will be used as part of the full proposal to Government by 9 December.
People can also email or write to us with their views and we are also consulting directly with key stakeholders and businesses over the next few weeks to hear their opinions.
Our residents, businesses and key organisations should have a voice on the issues that affect them, and we want to ensure that Government can see the breadth of support for local decision making and hear the voices of local communities.
Across The Bay, there is real strength in our network of town and parish councils, and of our varied community and voluntary sector (CVS) across Barrow-in-Furness, Lancaster and South Lakeland. Leaders will be engaging with this essential part of local government, to make sure their interests and views are understood and reflected in our case to Government.
- Report to Full Council on 05.11.2020
- Outline proposal for a new Morecambe Bay unitary authority (PDF, 5.8MB)
Last updated: 19 November 2020