MPs Torn Over Local Government Reform Plans For Cumbria

By Rachael Grealish

Cumbrian MPs are torn in their opinions over the recent announcement Cumbria would be split into two unitary councils.

Yesterday, Wednesday July 21, the Government announced that it has chosen to progress with the new model of two unitary authorities for Cumbrian.

In the model Allerdale, Carlisle and Copeland form one authority, and Barrow, Eden and South Lakeland the other.

The unitary authorities will carry out all the services in their area, and replace the current two-tier system of a county council and six districts.

The new model boasts to deliver ‘greater integration between areas, improve service delivery and outcomes for the community, while offering strong local leadership, accountability and representation’, however, Cumbria’s MPs seem to be torn over the matter.

The Copeland, Workington and Carlisle MPs are all for the changes – but the MP for Penrith and the Border, Dr Neil Hudson, isn’t as convinced.

Dr Hudson said he does not believe now is the time for ‘radical re-structuring’ and has expressed his disappointment in the plans.

“I am deeply disappointed that this decision has been made,” he said, “As we are coming through the pandemic, I do not believe this is the time to be even contemplating radical re-structuring of Local Government, which across Cumbria has put in a Herculean effort supporting people through this crisis.

“I had said that if this did have to go ahead my preference was with the Eden and Carlisle submission of a north-south structure rather than the east-west split we are now faced with.

“We now have to make the best of this disappointing decision and I will work with Central and Local Government on a constructive cross-party basis to try to secure the best outcome for folk right across our county.”

His other Conservative colleagues don’t seem to share his disappointment as Copeland’s MP, Trudy Harrison, said she ‘welcomes the changes’.

She said: “Local Government in Cumbria was last reorganised in 1974 and it is clear that the two-tier system needed to be modernised to promote clearer areas of responsibilities, accountability and transparency.

“Residents will benefit from their hard-earned council tax being spent more efficiently and at best possible value.

“I welcome these changes that dovetails into the Government’s levelling up and devolution agenda and will create an authority with a strong, single and focused voice.”

The Workington MP, Mark Jenkinson, and Carlisle MP, John Stevenson, also both tweeted their support of the proposed changes.

In a post Stevenson said it was great news.

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Whereas, Jenkinson said he was ‘delighted’ in a series of tweets saying he thinks it will ‘provide strong and efficient local government for many years to come’.

“Delighted that the Government have today announced plans to plans to implement the proposal for two unitary councils, on an East-West geography, for the whole of the administrative county of Cumbria,” he said.

“I believe this decision will provide strong and efficient local government for many years to come.

“This reorganisation will bring significant benefits to the region, giving the local leaders there tools to help level up opportunity and prosperity across their communities.

“This was essential for us, as MPs representing our own communities, and so we were pleased to be able to give it our support.

“The locally-led plans are being implemented after a period of consultation which considered views from residents, business leaders and councils.

“The existing councils and their partners will now work collaboratively and constructively together to drive forward the process of establishing unitary councils while plans are laid before Parliament for approval.”

At the turn of the year, a draft structural changes Order will be laid in Parliament.

This will include plans for the necessary transitional arrangements, including for elections in May 2022 for the future unitary councils.

It is then expected that the two new unitaries with be vested in April 2023.