The Bay unitary proposal
Last Updated: 30 April 2021
Proposals for a new unitary authority around Morecambe Bay have been considered in a Government consultation on Local Government Reorganisation in Cumbria.
Government conducted a formal consultation on The Bay option, after considering a joint submission by South Lakeland District Council, Barrow Borough Council and Lancaster City Council.
The consultation closed on Monday, 19 April 2021. We are now waiting for Government to announce which, if any, of the four options for Cumbria it wishes to take forward.
Our Full Proposal document gives details of the case for The Bay that was presented as part of that consultation:
The Full Proposal details:
- the case for The Bay
- priorities for reform
- costs and benefits
- how to make it happen
- engagement and correspondence
The Bay proposal
The full proposal was agreed by extraordinary meetings of the Full Councils of Barrow Borough Council, Lancaster City Council and South Lakeland District Council on 8 December 2020.
A formal submission has now been sent to Government.
In total the Government has received four proposals from councils in Cumbria and has consulted on them all. They are:
- Barrow, South Lakeland and Lancaster have jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: 'The Bay' comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, South Lakeland District and Lancaster City Councils and ‘North Cumbria’, comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough, Carlisle City, Copeland Borough and Eden District Councils.
- Allerdale and Copeland have jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: ‘West Cumbria’ comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough, Carlisle City and Copeland Borough Councils and ‘East Cumbria’ comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, Eden District and South Lakeland District Councils.
- Carlisle and Eden have jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: ‘North Cumbria’ comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough, Carlisle City and Eden District Councils and ‘South Cumbria’ comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, Copeland Borough and South Lakeland District Councils.
- Cumbria County Council has submitted a proposal for a single unitary council covering the county area of Cumbria County ‘One Cumbria’.
A new Bay authority could merge the three district councils and draw down powers from the county councils, to create a new single tier authority for the area responsible for local government functions.
In October 2020 Government sent letters to councils in Cumbria inviting submissions on ‘locally-led proposals for unitary government’.
The formal invitation from Government was the first step in the legal process towards restructuring. A final more detailed case had to be submitted to Government by 9 December.
Why we're talking about local government reorganisation
The Government committed to introducing a Devolution White Paper this year, encouraging local government reform, also referred to as Local Government Reorganisation (LGR).
- on 9 October Government sent a letter to local authorities in Cumbria inviting them to submit proposals for new unitary authorities
- Government has invited proposals that would replace the current two-tier system of county and district councils in Cumbria, with a single tier of local government
- Government requested initial proposals by 9 November 2020, and a full proposal by 9 December 2020
The councils around the Bay area believe a unitary that merges Barrow Borough Council, Lancaster City Council and South Lakeland would be the best solution for the communities in those areas. The Full Proposal was overwhelmingly supported by Full Council meetings of each council on 8 December 2020. Across the three councils 110 councillors voted in favour of the proposal, 8 voted against and 7 abstained.
What a unitary council means
A unitary council means a single local authority that would bring all the different services currently offered by county and district councils under ‘one roof’.
Currently, residents here are governed by a two-tier system, where local services are provided by ourselves and the county council.
In our district there are also town and parish councils.
The benefits of becoming unitary
There are some key things which residents rightfully expect from local government:
- good quality services provided at a reasonable cost
- a council that is open and accountable to local residents
- a listening council, which is responsive to the wishes and priorities of the communities it serves
Under the current two-tier arrangements there is sometimes confusion over which council provides which service.
For example, at the moment we are responsible for waste collection but the county council is responsible for waste disposal. We are responsible for the majority of off-street parking, but the county council is responsible for on-street parking. We provide leisure services, but the county council provide libraries and youth services.
In a unitary authority, all these services and more would be provided by one single, new organisation, enabling us to make sure these areas are better joined-up and with the flexibility and efficiency to provide better services.
The Bay area
The proposed unitary authority, The Bay, consists of: Barrow-in-Furness Borough Council, Lancaster City Council and South Lakeland District Council areas.
Barrow-in-Furness BC and South Lakeland DC are two of the six district and borough councils that make up Cumbria County Council, which is based 50 miles away. Lancaster CC is one of 12 district and borough councils that currently make up Lancashire.
Representing your views
The Leaders of the three councils have worked together to develop a proposal that demonstrates the benefits of The Bay unitary authority when compared to the alternatives.
Throughout we have been committed to consulting key stakeholders and most importantly the views of local residents on how we can make sure a new unitary works for the 320,000 local residents and 13,000 businesses that are the heart of The Bay.
As part of our submission we conducted engagement with residents, businesses and organisations on our proposal for local government structures in the Bay area.
We ran an online survey, commissioned an independent opinion poll and staged virtual engagement events for hundreds of key stakeholders, businesses, community and youth groups and parish and town councils.
Around 4,000 people responded during a three-week consultation and businesses and organisations sent in letters of endorsement.
Independent polling of more than 1,000 adults by polling company Survation showed 60% of people believe the area would be best served by a unitary council for Morecambe Bay. Only 30% favoured a county-wide unitary for Cumbria and separate arrangements for Lancashire.
A joint survey by the three councils gathered nearly 3,000 responses. It showed 85% of people in the area favoured a Bay authority over a county-wide unitary.
The full engagement results are contained in the Full Proposal document.
Why we think a unitary is the best option
The Bay proposal brings together three local authorities with shared geography and history, from which arise shared opportunities and challenges for our communities.
The Bay puts right the artificial boundary between historically linked areas, sitting alongside a new unitary authority for the four northern and western districts of Cumbria and viable arrangements for the rest of Lancashire to the south.
- we are home to advanced manufacturing of strategic UK importance, a hub for clean energy generation, two universities and a world heritage site, which extends across new proposed boundaries
- we believe a Bay unitary would be best focussed on meeting the needs of our communities, businesses and environment
- the proposal builds on a strong sense of community identity, a functioning economic area, shared strategic ambition, the existing health services footprint and is of appropriate population size for the organisation of a unitary council
We are already:
- a strong, closely-linked community
- a functioning economic geography, with 96% of the workforce both living and working in the area
- focused on the Bay: 76% of business and 90% of the population are within 7km (4 miles) of the Bay
- well-connected and local: direct public transport links to the Bay, compared to 50-mile drive to County Hall in Carlisle
- The Bay is served by a single NHS Trust, is in the same postal and broadcast area and the three councils already successfully work together through economic partnerships
The services we'd deliver
These services would be organised by the proposed new unitary council for the Bay area. The new council would take responsibility for services currently undertaken by the districts and county councils.
The unitary would look after services like:
- emptying bins
- social care
A number of alternative proposals have been submitted for Cumbria, including a single unitary council (presented by the County Council) and options for the creation of two unitary councils within the Cumbria area.
We think a single unitary would be too large and cumbersome, detached from local communities leading to a democratic deficit. It would need to decide resources to be used in the north and south of Cumbria, where there are different needs to be met. Independent research also shows a drop in respect, engagement and voter turnout for large local authorities.
In contrast, a new unitary authority, focused on the needs of local people and businesses in The Bay area, would be better placed to engage with its residents, easier to understand for electors, with joined-up decision-making, clearer accountability and improved and closer relationships with the voluntary sector and town and parish councils.
Why we're looking at this now
Should councils be concentrating on the Covid-19 response, not looking to reorganise?
The Leaders of the three councils have repeatedly said that, while they welcome the opportunity to talk about opportunities to improve local government, they do not consider that this is the right time. They have said that all our efforts at present should be focused on supporting our communities through the pandemic.
However, once the Government had sent the invitation letter, the Leaders said they owed it to those same communities to propose a solution they believe is in the area’s best interests, so the three councils conducted the necessary work to present a full proposal for a Bay unitary by the deadline of 9 December 2020.
A new council across county boundaries
In the invitation letter from Government, it was made clear that the Government would consider proposals from ‘one or more districts in a county and one or more relevant adjoining areas’.
A cross-boundary authority around Morecambe Bay fits that criteria and we believe it is the best way forward for our three areas.
We should not be constrained by lines on a map. We should be looking to a solution that offers the most positive benefits for our communities, one that builds on existing relationships and connections, one that is ambitious and supports innovation and growth.
Barrow, Lancaster and South Lakeland already work together on economic initiatives through the Joint Committee and we believe there are opportunities to develop and build on that existing successful relationship.
The Joint Committee
The Lancaster and South Cumbria Joint Committee a partnership between the three Bay local authorities and demonstrates that the councils already have a strong track record of collaborative working.
The three councils have been working together on economic initiatives since 2017 and formed the Joint Committee earlier this year to further develop that work.
The economic partnership has already achieved notable success when a joint submission to the Arts Council was accepted as one of only two “rural” bids in the UK to develop a pioneering ‘Cultural Compact’ around Morecambe Bay, harnessing cultural and creative opportunities to boost the local economy.
The Joint Committee has also developed the Bay Prosperity and Resilience Strategy, which is seeking Government funding over the next two years to jointly develop plans and projects to further unlock the Bay area’s economic potential.