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Local government reorganisation in Cumbria

The Government is actively driving a devolution agenda across the UK. To allow for powers and finance to be devolved from central Government to a local level, local authorities must exist that are large enough to receive them. The current two-tier system in Cumbria (of a county council with six districts beneath it) does not offer this option.

Therefore, the Government has formally invited all seven Cumbrian authorities to submit their proposals for local government reform that would replace the current setup and create larger authorities in order to facilitate a future devolution deal. The Government has expressed a preference that local government reform will create a Directly Elected Mayor position for Cumbria.

On 22 February 2021, the government announced an eight-week consultation on the proposals.

Why are we proposing change?

  • The status quo cannot continue. It is not financially sustainable in the long-term, does not provide value for money, creates duplication, and is confusing for our residents.
  • A change is necessary to improve financial sustainability, remove duplication, increase collaboration between geographical areas and focus on integrated service delivery.
  • Without change, the Government’s levelling up and devolution agenda cannot take affect and Cumbria is in danger of being left behind.
  • The right platform and structure needs to be created to allow the area to prosper, unlock growth and to facilitate the levelling-up agenda through devolution.

What new model are we proposing?

Allerdale Borough Council and Copeland Borough Council believe that current two-tier system of local government should be replaced with a new model; of two unitary authorities, overseen by a combined authority with a Directly Elected Mayor. When the make-up of the two unitaries is decided Allerdale Borough Council's Executive has indicated that their preferred position was to form a new authority on the footprint of the existing Allerdale, Carlisle and Copeland Councils.

Why are we proposing a two-unitary model?

We believe:

  • It will provide a strong, single voice for the area.
  • It will create a structure that is large enough to receive devolved powers, but small enough that important links with residents and businesses will be maintained.
  • It will provide leadership, local identity and accessibility; the leadership will be close to the people they represent
  • Copeland and Allerdale already have shared social and economic history, transport links and housing markets.

Have your say on the reorganisation proposals?

Consultation on the proposals by the government

On 22 February 2021, the government announced its consultation on the proposals it had received for reorganisation of local government in Cumbria. 

You can read our proposal below ahead of responding to the consultation.

In our detailed submission, we outlined how our proposals will meet our objectives of creating integration between areas and improving service delivery and outcomes for the community, while offering strong local leadership, accountability and representation. The model proposed would also offer a more simplified structure and remove duplication, while also generating efficiencies.

Read the full proposal

Have you say

What happened beforethe consultation was announced?

Our outline proposal was submitted to the Government on November 9.  A proposal mirroring this was also sent by Copeland Borough Council. You can read this below.

This was followed by a full proposal which was was sent to the government on 8 December 2020.

Cumbria Local Government Reorganisation Outline Proposal

You can download the outline proposal report, or it is available in the sections below.

Read the outline proposal

This is the outline proposal for local government reorganisation in Cumbria submitted by Allerdale Borough Council. It details the case for change in Cumbria, how we are agreeing the best geographic model and the further detail that will be included in our full proposal.

Objectives of this report The key objectives of this document are to:

  • Clearly outline the case for change;
  • Demonstrate our vision for local government in Cumbria and how that supports the delivery of key elements of the Government’s policy agenda;
  • Document the criteria to agree a geographic model for future unitaries; and
  • Outline the further detail to be included in the full proposal by the 9th December

Cumbria has significant strengths and opportunities to grow and develop, from the existing strong tourism industry to nuclear and renewables assets that can enable it to lead the UK towards net zero ambitions.

Cumbria has significant assets and opportunities to develop and grow which

  • The opportunity to establish an elected mayor to promote the region and give a clear voice for the people and economy of Cumbria through devolution.
  • Cumbria is a Centre of Nuclear Excellence: decarbonising heat, power and transport, and driving clean growth as we head towards Net Zero by 2050. Through the Barrow shipyard we are also at the core of the UK’s defence industries and nuclear deterrent.
  • We have significant assets for renewable energy including a large coastline and favourable weather conditions which can support the UK’s clean energy agenda and net zero ambitions.
  • Cumbria is home to a wealth of natural assets including the Lake District world heritage site, three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, parts of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Cumbria Coast Marine Conservation Zone. These open spaces and their biodiversity  supports tourism which brings over 47 million people and £3.1bn to the local economy every year.
  • We make a significant contribution to national rural economy with the commitment to innovate and the use of new technologies to support food self sufficiency and wider national agricultural policy.

Cumbria faces a number of local challenges and issues while managing the national issues of devolution and EU Exit and the international challenges posed by COVID-19 and climate change.

In addition to national issues such as COVID-19, forthcoming white papers on devolution and planning, EU Exit, health and social care integration, climate change and digitisation, Cumbria faces some specific challenges including:

  • Large, rural and sparsely populated - Cumbria is the second largest county in the country but has a small and mostly rural population which means delivering high quality services fairly across the whole area is challenging.
  • Financial sustainability - Local government nationally is under significant financial pressure. Prior to COVID-19 the Councils in Cumbria required savings of £16.8m in 2020/21 on top of savings made since 2011.
  • Shrinking and ageing population - The population is older than the national average and is expected to shrink which presents a challenge regarding skills, economic growth and adult social care.
  • Inequalities- There are pockets of significant deprivation and significant variations in life expectancy, education and other key life factors across the county.

Local government reorganisation is supported by the authorities of Cumbria as it presents an opportunity to deliver better services to residents, more efficiently and will bring clarity to local government. It will enable stronger leadership for Cumbria and enable devolution to attract investment, strengthen the economy and level up the region.

The key benefits associated with a move to unitary local government are:

  • Stronger voice to central government - Unitary government will give a strong voice for the region on a regional, national and international stage.
  • Unlocking devolution – Local Government Reorganisation may enable a devolution deal with a possible mayoral Combined Authority and the region has ambitions to lead the way towards carbon negativity while creating jobs, promoting growth and ‘levelling up’ across the region.
  • More efficient governance - The two-tier system creates duplication and overhead costs for residents which reduces the value for money that the people of Cumbria expect.
  • Scale in service delivery – More efficient delivery will enable greater organisational sustainability to enable services to be resilient, efficient and improved
  • Integrating planning and delivery – the two-tier system separates planning from delivery which weakens the effectiveness of economic development. This also prevents joined up services e.g. separating delivery of children’s services from services that support children, such as leisure and cultural services.
  • Clarity in democratic representation – The two-tier system creates confusion regarding the role of District and County councils. A unitary structure provides a single organisation to contact regarding residents’ local area.

This report assumes that local government reorganisation will take place in Cumbria, and focusses on the opportunities that it presents for the people and organisations of the county.


A two unitary model is the only practical approach to supporting Cumbria, balancing population needs, size and efficiencies of scale with local geography, infrastructure and culture. Cumbria is a large, sparsely populated count.

Two unitaries provides the right balance of population size and economies of scale with the practicalities of Cumbrian geography, culture, society and economy. Cumbria is too large to enable a single authority to be efficient and effective but the population is too small for three authorities to be efficient. Two unitaries will enable us to meet and exceed the expectations of our communities, particularly through post-Covid recovery.

  • Cumbria has a low population density so, while the 500k population would be viable for a unitary, the population is spread over a large area which makes service delivery for the whole area more complex.
  • Services need to be local and reflect their place. Two unitary authorities will enable localism in service deliver as well as integration and harmony in delivery e.g. focused economic development. Existing County services are delivered over multiple different footprints within Cumbria so two unitaries represents a consolidation of service delivery.
  • Two unitaries enables strong democratic representation for residents and place without placing too much pressure on town and parish councils to fill the gap.
  • Many residents do not identify with the boundaries of Cumbria County Council. The county came into being in 1974 replacing Cumberland and Westmorland and does not have a single unifying functional economy, socioeconomic geography or culture.
  • Cumbria’s six largest cities and towns are in different districts and each have a very different identity and culture. Two unitaries will enable them to have a stronger voice and identity in how they are run, rather than centralising power in one hub.
  • A future mayoral Combined Authority enables strategic planning and leadership while two balanced unitaries provides local service delivery and a strong basis for inclusive, clean growth.

We will promote Cumbria with strong and fair representation for our communities and businesses. Our services will drive sustainable economic growth, enable safe and healthy lives and deliver value for money for everyone. 

How we will achieve it

  • Two unitaries providing local representation, responsibility and accountability as part of a strong Cumbria Combined Authority
  • Local, responsive, accessible services, integrating planning and service delivery
  • Strengthening our economy to lead the UK towards a cleaner, prosperous future
  • Delivering high quality services, efficiently and delivering value for our residents in collaboration with our partners

This outline proposal does not include a preferred model for two unitaries in Cumbria as we are taking a detailed, evidence-based approach to understanding the options through five main evaluation criteria which are weighted to reflect our priorities for local government reorganisation

Criteria 1
Impact on service deliveryWeighting
Service improvement5
Geography for service delivery5
Minimal service disruption4
Manageable demographics and demand4
Partnership working3
Capacity and resilience4
Criteria 2
Economic growth potential5
Sustainable economic development5
Inclusive economic growth, social mobility and levelling up5
Unlocking investment5
Housing development provision4
Criteria 3
Financial benefits and sustainabilityWeighting
Long-term financial sustainability5
Costs and complexity of reorganisation3
Council tax equalisation3
Income potential4
Reserves, assets and liabilities4
Criteria 4
Democratic representationWeighting
Effective local representation5
Functional economic geography3
Representation in future combined authority2

Criteria 5

Public Support

We will submit a full proposal which contains our model for local government reorganisation in Cumbria including the financial analysis that supports it, evidence of public support and a high level timeline for implementing unitary government in Cumbria.

Preferred model

Details of the geographic split of the two unitaries in Cumbria and how that model best achieves the vision set out in this document. The geographic model has not been detailed in this outline proposal as we are taking a detailed, evidence-based approach to understanding what is best for the people of Cumbria and its economic future. The previous page detailed the criteria against which we are assessing a shortlist of options.

Financial analysis

Analysis of the savings and synergies we expect to achieve through local government reorganisation, considering projected implementation costs, the implementation timeframe and when savings and benefits can be achieved.

Public support

Demonstration of the support for our two-unitary model for local government reorganisation from the public, community groups and key stakeholders.


A high level outline plan for implementing local government reorganisation in Cumbria, considering the required democratic process and a period of shadow operations

We asked your views on our outline proposal

We wanted to hear your views on our outline proposal to ensure our final submission fully reflects the views of our communities. 

In conjunction with Copeland Borough Council, we have devised a short survey on our outline proposal. The deadline for responses has now passed.

Privacy statement

The survey was being carried out on Survey Monkey. You should not be required to set-up an account to complete the survey. The survey has been devised in conjunction with Copeland Borough Council, who will be collating the results and sharing with us as well as our team of consultants at KPMG who will use the results as part of our final submission. There is no requirement to provide your name, full address or email details. If you do provide any personal information this will not be shared with KPMG, nor will it be published. All information provided shall only be used for this local government reorganisation consultation and the development on the final submission to government. It will be held securely and used in compliance with the GDPR. See our full Privacy Policy