Saturday, June 23, 2007

On Copeland Council's response to the Unitary Cumbria consultation

Following on from yesterday's post I want to clarify one point about the Copeland response to the government consultation on new council structures, and particularly about how the Conservative members of the council voted on the motion.

The Conservative Group had a free vote on this issue.

Some members of Copeland Borough Council who are also members of Cumbria County council, both Labour and Conservative, decided that they should not attend the Copeland meeting or should abstain.

The motion presented to the Copeland special meeting had three parts. It endorsed a response which had been drafted by Copeland and other district/Borough councils in Cumbria, suggested that if the Unitary Cumbria proposals do not go forward, that an alternative model drafted by the "Better Government f0r Cumbria" group should form the basis of discussions for an alternative, and delegated authority for preparation of a covering letter from Copeland.

This presented my Conservative colleagues on Copeland Borough Council with a problem. To a man and woman, we are opposed to the Unitary Cumbria proposal, and wanted to vote accordingly. However, we also had serious concerns about the "Better Government for Cumbria" alternative.

Many of the same concerns which we have about the County bid, both as to whether the financial arguments are robust and whether the governance arrangements are adequately democractic and effective, also apply to the "Better government for Cumbria" alternative. Further, the alternative proposals suggest a federation of four "most purpose authorities" for Cumbria, one of which would be a "Greater Barrow" comprising the present Barrow council plus some of South Copeland, and another of which would be a combined "West Cumbria" authority comprising the rest of Copeland and part of Allerdale.

The exact boundaries of the suggested authorities have not been specified, but my colleagues from Millom were understandably upset at being asked to vote for a motion which appears to support pushing the area they represent off to a shotgun marriage with Barrow when there had been no proper consultation with the people of Millom, or anywhere else in South Copeland, to ask what they think of this idea.

If the exact wording of the motion put to Copeland council had included a complete endorsement of everything in the "Better Government for Cumbria" proposals, this would have forced me, and probably most of the rest of the Conservative members of the council, to vote against it.

However, the government consultation currently on the table is about one option - the county's proposal for a Unitary Cumbria. If and only if it is defeated, the option to look at other structures will open up.

The position of myself and most of my Conservative colleagues was to vote for the motion on the basis that we agree with the arguments presented against a unitary Cumbria, and that if it fails, the "Better Government for Cumbria" proposals were only being put forward "as a basis" to prepare a new model of enhanced two-tier working. That is not the same as endorsing every word in those proposals.

Some of my colleages, mostly from Millom, declined to vote for the motion, not because they support the county bid - they don't - but because they do not support the Better Government for Cumbria proposals either.

I respect that position. In particular, there is no way I would vote to transfer any part of South Copeland into a Barrow authority unless extensive consultation with people in the area affected demonstrated that such a proposal had popular support.

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