In last week’s column for the News and Star, John Stevenson wrote of the opportunity for a devolution deal for Cumbria. He spoke of the chance for the county to be awarded millions of pounds of additional funding and further powers, in areas like transport, and urged council leaders not to allow the county to be left behind to become a second tier player in local and national representation. He stated that he hoped local leaders were capable of rising to the challenge.
Speaking on the subject the new leader of Cumberland Council, Mark Fryer has publicly stated that “it could be three or four years before formal talks start on a devolution deal for Cumbria and the priority is setting up the new council.” Cumbrians across the county already know that two shadow authorities have existed since May 2022 and in their words, have been “carrying out the work to set these new councils up.”
Running alongside this, the new Cumberland and Westmoreland and Furness Councils are currently consulting on their proposals for a 4.99% increase in council tax for 2023/2024, the highest increase open to the councils without being forced to hold a referendum in the county.
Speaking John said, “I am shocked and saddened at the response from Mark Fryer to the question of devolution for the County. In the Cumberland Council’s recently adopted plan, it speaks of “a fresh approach to delivering inclusive services” and a wish “to fulfil the potential of its people and area.” Yet here are the new councils relying already on the taxpayer to foot the bill and ignoring completely the opportunity to bring in millions of pounds of additional funding and new powers to the county. Allowing local people to make crucial decisions on local matters is one of the keys ways we can help our people fulfil their potential.
In answer to my own question, are the new leaders capable of rising to the challenge? The answer is quite obviously no.
I will continue to fight for a fair deal for Cumbria alongside my colleagues. Mark Jenkinson, MP for Workington has recently written to both leaders on this very subject, and I will continue discussions with Government on the Government taking the lead and seeking discussions with the two councils, if this inertia continues after April 2023, when both councils formally take control. I am not prepared to let Cumbria sit back and watch other areas in the north prosper.”
The consultation on the proposed increase in council tax is open until 31st January. Residents can have their say at https://www.cumberland.gov.uk/news/2023/residents-encouraged-have-their-say-budget-proposals