Cumbria County Council has voted to proceed with an official bid to adopt a single, or unitary, council for the whole county.
Following approval at a Full Council meeting on 18 January 2007, the bid to scrap the current two-tier system of county and district councils in favour of a new unitary Cumbria Council will be submitted to the Department for Communities and Local Government for consideration. The official deadline for bid submissions set out in the Government's Strong and Prosperous Communities White Paper is January 25th and the council has now agreed to submit its bid document 'One Council, One Vision, One Voice' within that deadline.
The bid has received cross-party support, with all three Group Leaders backing the submission. Today's vote passed by a majority of 58 votes to 11.
'One Council, One Vision, One Voice' sets out a model for a brand new local authority that saves tens of millions of pounds, reduces council tax bills, and gives a new authority's newly elected councillors the ability to make a real difference in their communities.
It shows how scrapping the current two-tier set up of Cumbria County Council and six district councils would save £ 22.2 million a year, and how that money could be spent improving services and keeping down council tax increases. Council tax bills across Cumbria would be harmonised at the lowest level in the county and then increases would be fixed at four per cent or less for the first three years of the new authority. The cost of the changes will pay for themselves over two-and-half years - well within the five-year payback timeframe set by the Government.
'One Council, One Vision, One Voice' also shows how around 100 newly elected councillors would work in 20 to 30 Community Boards across the county. The Community Boards would work at a much more local level than current district councils and would have the power to shape and run local services and get to grips with local priorities by involving the elected members and other organisations such as parish councils and the voluntary sector. This would create a stronger local democracy, with decisions taken closer than ever to the communities they affect.
Many councils all over the country are submitting their own bids - although 'One Council, One Vision, One Voice' is the only bid being submitted from within Cumbria. The Department for Communities and Local Government is expected to announce by the end of March which bids can proceed further through a 12-week consultation process with key stakeholders.
'One Council, One Vision, One Voice' will be available in the county's libraries and also online at www.cumbria.gov.uk/onecouncil, a new web-based guide on the potential switch to a unitary council. The web guide features a handy Q&A on what the proposal means, myth busters clarifying concerns that have been raised, background on the White Paper, a timetable of change, and also a message forum where the public can give their views on the proposal.
Conservative Tim Stoddard, Leader of Cumbria County Council, said: "This is a historic moment for Cumbria. I am proud of all the councillors who voted in favour of this. They have showed they have the vision to see what is an excellent outline for a more progressive, more representative and more cost-effective kind of local government for Cumbria. I applaud a bold and far-sighted decision and also applaud the building of an incredibly strong case which we are now putting to Government."
Joan Stocker, Deputy Leader and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, said: "This decision is a vote in favour of clarity, leadership and accountability. It is also a vote in favour of every single household in Cumbria, because every village, every town, every city will feel the benefit of a single council. They will see an end to the confusion caused by having a maze of organisations to negotiate when they want to access services. They will see an end to wasting public money through needless duplication of resources. And they will see an end to Cumbria struggling to fight its corner on the national and international stage because it is too busy fighting with itself."
Stewart Young, Leader of the Labour Group on the county council, said: "I am very pleased that councillors have put aside party political differences to grasp the opportunity offered by the Government to make things better for Cumbria. I have no doubt that these plans for Cumbria deserve Government backing because they lay out a win-win situation of the public having more say in their local area for less council tax. It is the right outcome for Cumbria and a good day for the county."
Jack Richardson, Leader of the Conservative Group on Cumbria County Council, said: "We have made the right decision for the right reasons today. It is high time Cumbria adopted a unitary system because it will make things simpler, clearer and cheaper. We are the only local authority that has been successful in preparing a bid - and that is because we are the only one who can make it work. But let's be clear, this is a bid by Cumbria County Council but not for Cumbria County Council. The county council, like the districts, would disappear and a completely new authority would replace us all. So the people who have voted in favour today are the people who have put the good of everyone in Cumbria before their own self interests."
Notes for editors
25 January 2007 - The Government's deadline for bids for new unitary councils.
End March 2007 - Government to announce which bids it likes.
March to June 2007 - a 12 week consultation period with stakeholders in areas where the Government likes unitary bids.
End July 2007 - Final decision by Government on decision on which bids have been successful.
May 2008 - Elections to a new authority which will shadow, or co-exist alongside the county's existing set up for one year.
April 2009 - the new unitary council for the whole of takes over the running of council services.
Cumbria County Council decided to draw up One Council, One Vision, One Voice in response to the Government's Strong and Prosperous Communities White Paper.
Media enquiries to Justin Hawkins, Media Officer on 01228 606334