CONCERNS have been raised about officer workloads as a project to replace the seven existing Cumbrian councils with two unitary authorities continues.

The first meeting of the new Cumberland Council’s scrutiny committee took place on Monday.

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Cumberland Council, which will serve Carlisle, Allerdale and Copeland, is set to take over from the existing county and district councils in the patch by April 1, 2023.

Another authority, Westmorland & Furness Council covering Eden, South Lakeland and Barrow-in-Furness, will also come into force on Vesting Day.

The two councils are currently operating as Shadow Authorities, which means that for one year they will co-exist with the current authorities until the transition is complete.

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And at scrutiny this week, member for Millom Without, Andy Pratt raised concerns about staff workloads as the project to make Cumberland Council “safe and legal” by April progresses.

Cllr Pratt said: “A question there on programme management officers, you said you’ve appointed more people into that role, are they new people to the council from outside? Because I’m aware that existing officers from the districts are also doing their day jobs and to give them more on top is probably going to push them to a maximum.

“So I just wondered if there’s new people to Cumberland and not from existing roles in their districts or county council.”

Reorganisation programme director Kim Rennie said: “I understand the last four people that we have successfully recruited, one’s external and three are internal to the system but for this role, they’re seconded in, so they leave their day job. It’s not work on top.”

Cllr Pratt said: “That was my point, whose doing their day jobs if they’re leaving the districts? The districts have still got nine months to run. I know about Copeland but I’ve heard other districts, officers are struggling to keep up with their day jobs for doing seconded work.

“I know they’re probably volunteered to do the seconded work, in the bigger picture they’re probably get a good role in the new authority but their day jobs still have to continue at Cumbria and the three districts until next April.”

Cllr Pratt said he is concerned the programme is “robbing Peter to pay Paul, keeping Cumberland up to speed but the districts are getting further behind.”

Ms Rennie said: “It’s possible for the authorities to backfill, because the programme pays the salary of the secondee, so the managers keep an eye on it and obviously we seek manager agreement before people are seconded.”  

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