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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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Leaders discuss prospect of single cash-saving council

ONE cash-saving local authority looking after the whole of West Cumbria might be the solution to funding cuts and making sure future essential services are delivered.

The prospect of a united approach combining Copeland and Allerdale borough councils is stronger following a task force report declaring that some form of a unitary or combined authority is both “desirable and inevitable for Cumbria”.

However it is felt by both Copeland and Allerdale that one single authority governing Cumbria would be far too big to best represent the communities.

A unitary authority task force made up of county councillors says a future governance structure could entail one, two or more authorities but a decision could be made only by all of the Cumbrian councils working together, consulting with the community and with the support of central government.

Leaders of both Copeland and Allerdale, Elaine Woodburn and Alan Smith, are broadly in favour of sharing more of their services and possibly in the longer term merging.

Coun Woodburn said: “I think Copeland and Allerdale are one step ahead of the rest of Cumbria. We are already looking at all options from sharing services right through to a fully-merged authority.”

Mr Smith said: “There are all sorts of things we can do to save money, sharing and merging services. We can’t go on the way we are.”

As far as Copeland and Allerdale coming closer together, he said: “It doesn’t have to be a full blown unitary, bigger things like health and adult social care could be left at county level, leaving us to deliver the best services we can.”

Key task group finding is that some form of unitary/combined authority is both desirable and inevitable for Cumbria – “desirable in that combined authorities are able to be more efficient, effective and responsive to local needs. And inevitable due to the inexorable financial pressures from central government”.

Coun Woodburn stressed: “My priority will be Copeland and West Cumbria. I always believe people most affected should be able to decide their own destiny.”

Any definite move to join forces should not be driven by money alone, the council leader stressed, adding: “There are positives and negatives.”

Savings, she said, could be made on management costs and cutting the number of councillors to represent West Cumbria but on the other hand council staff would stand to lose their jobs.

She said: “The priority is to keep as many services as we possibly can for the people we represent. Copeland and Allerdale are being adult and sensible and putting our communities first.”

She said merging wouldn’t be cheap and quick.

It had already cost Cumbria £500,000 pursuing the unitary option.

“It failed last time by the county council trying to lead on something without taking everybody else with them.

“The only way this can be done is by everybody working together, not having one local authority dictating to others.”

She said the division of opinion over the nuclear repository issue was a good example of why one Cumbria unitary would fail – “that’s the potential risk you take,” she declared.

“At the end of the day we have to get the best for the people we represent.”

Copeland council Tory group leader David Moore favours a single authority governing West Cumbria rather than being part of a large county unitary..

He said: “I do believe we are looking at a unitary linking Copeland and Allerdale, maybe some parts north and south of both. It certainly has merit for further investigation.

“People clearly want to see a reduction in the number of councillors, we would be able to benefit from this and the fact that we would need only one senior management team and one chief executive instead of two.

“If it happens it won’t be overnight but with the changing environment, massive cuts and council having to make such huge savings you have to start somewhere.”

County council leader Eddie Martin told the county council cabinet: “It would be economic madness not to become a unitary authority.”

But deputy leader Stewart Young claimed: “We’ve missed the boat. We haven’t got four or five years if we are talking about saving money. I am afraid it is too little too late.”

Task force recommendations will now go to the Cumbria Leaders’ Board – a group of council leaders from each authority who will be requested to develop an action plan.

Have your say

All in favour of a single borough council for West Cumbria as long as we have the Alerdale big-wigs in charge, Elaine Woodburn et al have no clue how to run a successful council.

Posted by Anon on 28 March 2013 at 08:59

Wasn't i reading just last week that they were saying a unitary authority for *all* of Cumbria was inevitable?
Why bother with this if it's true.

Posted by Rick on 22 March 2013 at 22:25

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