A consultation on proposals for unitary local government submitted by councils in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset has been launched by the government.
Following a formal invitation from the government in October 2020 to councils in these counties to submit proposals for reorganisation, Local Government Secretary, Robert Jenrick has received eight locally-led proposals for consideration.
This has seen four proposals from councils in Cumbria and two each from councils in North Yorkshire and Somerset respectively.
The proposals outline how the councils want to restructure local government in their area to establish unitary local government, which would see them moving from a two-tier system of county and district councils, to a system where there is a single tier for any given area.
The consultation asks a number of questions about each proposal around value for money, proposed geography of the council and impact of the proposal on local services.
As a result of the consultation launch, the district and county council elections due to be held in May this year in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset will be rescheduled to May 2022.
Rescheduling local elections avoids the possibility of the electorate being asked to vote for councils, while at the same time being given the opportunity to express their views on the possible abolition of those councils.
It also avoids councillors potentially being elected to serve short terms.
The elections for local Police and Crime Commissioners, as well as elections to any town or parish councils will continue to take place in May 2021.
Commenting, Mr Jenrick said: “I have always been clear that any restructuring of local government must be locally-led and will not involve top-down solutions from government.
“Now that councils in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset have submitted their proposals, I am pleased residents, businesses and service providers will have the opportunity to have their say on what will work best for their area.
“Where there is local support, changing the structure of local government can offer better value for money and improved services for residents.”
The Local Government Secretary will consider all proposals following the consultation, before making a decision about which option, if any, to implement in each county.
Subject to parliamentary approval, it would be expected that any new unitary council would be fully operational from April 2023, with transitional arrangements expected to be in place from 2022, including elections in May 2022 to the shadow or continuing councils.
Leader of Somerset County Council, Councillor David Fothergill said that “it is now clear that staying the same is not an option” and added: “This is a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to improve public services for everyone in Somerset.”
“No more waste and duplication, no more confusion over who does what, just one strong, modern council, listening to the needs of Somerset’s residents and delivering what matters most for them.”