Council leaders around Morecambe Bay ask for partnership to be considered in devolution talks
The leaders of three councils around Morecambe Bay have jointly asked for their cross-boundary partnership to be considered in discussions about devolution and potential local government reorganisation.
Councillors Ann Thomson from Barrow Borough Council, Dr Erica Lewis from Lancaster City Council and Giles Archibald from South Lakeland District Council have asked Simon Clark, Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, that should an invitation be extended to either Cumbria or Lancashire to bring forward proposals for devolution or possible local government reorganisation, it be drafted in such a way as to allow the three councils to work with other councils in developing proposals that allow them to work more closely together.
It follows Mr Clark's meeting with local government leaders and chief executives in Cumbria on 9 July to discuss devolution and the potential for local government reorganisation, with a White Paper due on the subject in the autumn.
In a letter to the Minister, the Barrow, Lancaster and South Lakeland leaders asked him to meet with them to discuss how supporting the councils’ partnership might help progress discussions on the future of devolution and possible local government in both Lancashire and Cumbria.
They said: "The region covered by our three councils is both a substantial, natural community and a functional economic area. Ninety-six per cent of the resident labour force works in the area and 75 per cent of all house moves take place within our region (excluding long-distance moves in excess of 100 miles), which exceeds the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government's 70 per cent threshold for a fully integrated housing market area.
"Historically, we have been one community, and that this community continues is recognised in the health (the University Hospitals Morecambe Bay Trust); arts, culture, leisure and tourism (our Cultural Compact and shared Morecambe Bay branding) and conservation (the Morecambe Bay Partnership) sectors. As well as through the many ties of employment, education, family and friendship."
The letter highlighted the formation of the Lancaster and South Cumbria Joint Committee, which met for the first time yesterday, and expressed concern that devolution in Cumbria and Lancashire could make that cooperation and collaboration harder.
They added: "None of us support the formation of unitary county councils. We contend that the geographic spread of our large counties would leave many residents feeling disconnected from decisions made on that scale."
The Lancaster and South Cumbria Joint Committee is a formal, shared link between the three councils to build on their collective strengths and increase our capacity to deliver on key issues affecting the region, as well as promoting the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the areas and driving growth in shared areas such as the visitor economy, culture, energy, advanced manufacturing, digital technologies, life sciences, health innovation and higher education.
The joint committee’s establishment was the next stage in the councils' joint work of the Lancaster and South Cumbria Economic Region partnership, which launched in June last year and has been promoting its work directly with Ministers, MPs and bodies such as the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.
The first Lancaster and South Cumbria Joint Committee meeting was held virtually yesterday. Items on the agenda include the Draft Bay Area Prosperity and Resilience Strategy; tackling inequalities and developing community wealth building; and addressing the climate emergency.