Judicial Review decision referred back to County Council cabinet

Until the government actually made a decision about what sort of unitary authorities it wanted, there was a high degree of consensus among County and District councillors in support of the principle of replacing the present County and District councils with a unitary council system. 

Not everyone agreed that now is the time to do it, and there was no consensus about the best model, but the vast majority of county councillors voted in favour of going for a unitary system and so did many district councillors.

However, when the government decided to replace the county council and the six district councils with two unitary councils rather than the single unitary council he preferred, the Leader of Cumbria County Council authorised the start of a process which could lead to a legal challenge.

A special meeting of the full council was called for the end of August, and voted that it would be a waste of time and money to pursue such a legal challenge and that it would be better to concentrate on setting up the new councils and making them work to provide better services and representation for the people of Cumbria.

The September meeting of the County Council cabinet decided to ignore this decision and support the next stage of a judicial review. The report to that meeting suggested that this could cost council taxpayers £83,000 but it is entirely possible that it could be more than that - legal cases have a well-documented propensity to cost more than expected and if your case is weak there can be an award of costs against you - it is entirely possible that this legal challenge could cost Cumbria's taxpayers a figure closer to £200,000. Not least because whoever loses could appeal sending legal bills higher and higher as good money is thrown after bad.

So I and two other Conservative councillors "called in" the decision by the county cabinet to progress a judicial review, and that call-in was discussed by the council's scrutiny management board this afternoon in Kendal.

Conservative and Lib/Dem councillors on the Scrutiny Management Board shared some of our concerns and voted to send the issue back to the council cabinet for further consideration (which is the strongest action that they were able to take.)

The vote to refer the issue back  to cabinet for further consideration was passed by seven votes to five.

Points of interest - we asked how the legal challenge would be funded and whether it was in line with the Policy and Budget framework, The answer was that the council has a "contingency" fund of £1.5 million pounds of which £1.2 million was left which the money could be taken from. That isn't exactly how the budget heading concerned was described when the budget was passed and it was interesting, to put it mildly, to hear that the leader of the council has that view of local taxpayers' money.

He also compared Cumbria County Council to the fans of Milwall football club - see tomorrow's quote of the day.



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