ELECTIONS on May 5 will appoint members to Cumberland Council, a new unitary authority which will takeover in Carlisle, Allerdale and Copeland.

Councillors will first serve on a Shadow Authority for one year alongside the existing North Cumbrian authorities.

But once the transition is complete, on Vesting Day (April 1 2023), Cumberland Council will take over from the county, city and borough councils as the single responsible authority in the area.

In 2023, the authority in the new area of Cumberland will assume all responsibilities such as planning, highways and adult social care.

The same process is taking place in the east with Westmorland & Furness Council set to take over in Eden, South Lakeland and Barrow-in-Furness.

A number of issues facing Cumberland Council in its first 18 months have already been identified. Here are five hurdles the new authority will encounter in its first 18 months.

1. Debt

As well as their responsibilities, Cumberland Council will take control of assets owned by the existing councils.

The new authority will therefore inherit £386.75 million in borrowing from Cumbria County Council and £13.29 million from the city. Allerdale has borrowed £16.56 million and Copeland has borrowed £5 million.

Leader of Allerdale Council Mike Johnson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service in January that a programme of work is ongoing to decide of the lending is handled by the new authorities.

2. Transformation of services

Tough decisions will need to be made on the transformation of services before Cumberland Council and Westmorland & Furness Council take control in their respective areas. 

Services that are currently dealt with by the county council for the entire area, such as highways, could be disaggregated - split down the middle and delivered separately by the two new unitaries for their areas.

Cross party concerns have been raised about this option.


3. Public consultation

Officers are working at pace to ensure the public are aware of the reorganisation before they head to the polling stations on May 5.

However, those in objection to the east-west split fear that the public have not been properly consulted on what is about to happen.

When the process was discussed in a Parliamentary committee, Fiona Bruce MP pointed out that a a consultation on the process recieved 3,000 responses while Cumbria is home to about 499,000 residents.

4. Workload

Constituents currently have a county council representative for their area who they can approach with concerns about highways, and a city or borough representative who they can contact with concerns about planning issues such as housing developments.

After local government reorganisation, most wards will have one councillor to field questions on all issues from their constituents.

Some have decided not to stand for election in May due to the increased workload.

Carlisle City Council member Lisa Brown has said that more support should be put in place before vesting day to ensure parents and carers are not discouraged from joining the world of politics.

But Conservative leaders have said that local government reorganisation ensures continuity of services, efficiency and better decision-making.

News and Star: Mayor of Copeland Mike StarkieMayor of Copeland Mike Starkie

5. Budget shortfall

A £34million budget gap is projected for the two new councils by 2025. As well as tackling the collective debt of each existing council, Cumberland will have to deliver on services such as highway maintenance alongside adult social care.

But Mayor of Copeland Mike Starkie told the Local Democracy Reporting Service in February that this shows "the funding model for local government doesn't work.

"LGR is potentially going to save between £19 million and £30 million in itself. That will address some of the budget gaps when this comes together."

He said that local government reorganisation "is not about saving money - it's about resilience."

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