Plans for new unitary councils in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset have taken an important step forward following approval from Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick in July.
The government's plans will move the areas away from a two-tier system of county and district councils to unitary councils. For Cumbria, two unitary councils will be established - an East unitary council covering Barrow, Eden and South Lakeland and a West unitary council covering Allerdale, Carlisle and Copeland. In North Yorkshire and Somerset, a new single unitary council will be established for each county area. All are subject to Parliamentary approval.
The plans follow a consultation which was launched in February, and which asked a number of questions about each proposal around value for money, proposed geography of the council and impact of the proposal on local services.
There were over 13,000 responses from residents, councils in neighbouring areas, health providers, the police, Local Enterprise Partnerships, businesses voluntary groups and educational bodies. The three criteria which had to be met before a proposal was accepted were how likely the plans are to improve local government and service delivery across its area; the amount of local support as assessed in the round overall across the whole area of the proposal; and credible geography of the proposed unitary councils.
Jenrick has asked the existing councils and their partners to work collaboratively to drive forward the process, stating:
I have always been clear that any restructuring of local government must be locally-led and will not involve top-down solutions from government.
Residents, businesses and service providers have had their say on what will work best for their area and now councils in these three areas can start planning for the next step.
Where there is local support, changing the structure of local government can offer better value for money and improved services for residents.
The government say these new unitary councils will bring significant benefits to Cumbria, North Yorkshire, and Somerset, giving the local leaders there tools to help level up opportunity and prosperity across their communities. The plans are designed to strengthen local leadership and transform the way services are delivered in these areas.