Lancaster MP to raise Morecambe Bay authority proposal in House of Commons

Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith will raise the issue in parliament on April 13, voicing her support for the joining up of three councils to create a new Morecambe Bay authority.

Monday, 12th April 2021, 4:50 pm
Updated Monday, 12th April 2021, 6:44 pm
Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith.

In a Westminster Hall debate which gives MPs an opportunity to raise local or national issues and receive a response from a government minister, Ms Smith said she will highlight the importance of creating a new Bay authority to re-unite communities with historic ties.

She told the Lancaster Guardian: “It is 47 years since the last major review of local government, which created Lancaster City Council in its current form – and which I believe committed the historic injustice of tearing Barrow-in-Furness away from Lancashire.

“It could be 47 years again before we return to this topic, so we must get this right. We must consider all the options, we must involve everyone in this discussion, and we mustn’t rush it.”

Ms Smith said that creating a new Bay authority would re-unite communities with historic ties.

In Lancaster, constituents have been offered a choice between two options.

Lancashire County Council has proposed a ‘Greater Blackpool’ council, which would see the Lancaster district merge with areas including Clitheroe, in the Ribble Valley, and the Fylde coast.

Alternatively Lancaster could join with South Lakeland and Barrow to form a council for Morecambe Bay.

Ms Smith, who is originally from Barrow-in-Furness, said: "A Bay council is the overwhelming choice of local residents.

"“Independent external polling by Survation demonstrated 60% overall support for a council based on this geography.

"A survey run by the three councils had nearly 3000 responses and found 83% support for The Bay compared to the idea of County-based unitary.

"In my constituency, support is incredibly high with 93% of Lancaster residents believing that a Bay council would be preferable to one based further afield.”

Ms Smith will tell ministers that the Bay area is a community tied by history, family, work and education.

“I was born in Barrow, I moved to Lancaster for study, and I now have the privilege of representing Lancaster as its MP,” she said.

“I’m a proud Barrovian and a proud Lancastrian.

"Like many others, I travel back and forth across the Bay regularly, to see family and for leisure – and I’m glad I do, because there’s no view on earth quite like the one across Morecambe Bay.

"In addition, we share a postcode, we share a TV broadcast area, and we are well connected by rail and road.

"On every measure we are a strong, long-standing community with a common identity, distinct from those to our north and to our south.”

One of the criteria set out by the Secretary of State is for proposals to represent a ‘credible geography’.

Ms Smith said she will tell ministers that “not only is the Bay a credible geography, it is abundantly clear that it is the only proposal on the table which can claim to be one.

"It is a functional economic area – 96% of local people live and work here.

"We are proud of our two universities, our three ports, our range of large employers and our plentiful tourism hotpots. The three councils already work together in a joint committee, in recognition of the area’s shared assets and economic prosperity.

"It is because of the unique geography and shared needs of the Bay, that NHS services are already operated on this footprint, separate from Cumbria north of the Lakes which was understood to have different needs, serving a different community.”

Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government also wants proposals that will ‘improve local government and service delivery’ and provide ‘stronger strategic and local leadership’.

Ms Smith said: “A bay authority would be incredibly well placed to do this.

"The three councils have already agreed shared values and strategic priorities such as meeting the climate emergency, building community wealth, reducing inequality, and building community power.

"Forming a unitary authority would allow them to enhance their existing relationships and deliver on their vision under unified leadership.

"And crucially, this consensus extends beyond party politics.

"This is not a Labour proposal, or a Lib Dem proposal, or a Conservative proposal – it has been supported by parties on all sides across all three districts - because they recognise that it is the best solution for our constituents.

"On every measure we are a strong, long-standing community with a common identity, distinct from those to our north and to our south.”

Ms Smith also claims that having already reached consensus on their priorities, merging the council’s activities and expenditure would allow efficient and effective delivery of services, and could be a catalyst for driving change.

“For example, a Bay authority would match the footprint of NHS services, under the Bay Health and Care Partnership, which includes the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, and the Morecambe Bay Clinical Commissioning Group.

"This would offer valuable opportunities for integration of services, particularly between health and social care, the latter of which currently operates across two different counties.

With social care accounting for 57p of every pound of council tax, up from 41p in 2010/11, integration with the health service would not only be hugely beneficial for service delivery, but also for management of public finances," she said.

Ms Smith also says that people routinely do not know which council provides which services, who they should hold accountable for them, or where they should turn for help.

“From assisting with thousands of constituents’ issues each year, I feel their pain," she said.

"A change to unitary local government would be welcome and in principle has broad political support, because it would simplify access to services for residents and businesses, it would vastly improve accountability of councils and councillors, and by doing so, it would allow local people to better understand and have a say in decisions that affect them.

"However, this sense of connection to local government will only be realised for an authority which reflects local identity and local patterns of living and working.

"Only The Bay will deliver this for Lancaster, South Lakeland and Barrow. I believe The Bay will give leadership that local people identify with, and enhance local democracy, rather than weaken it.”

Ms Smith’s Westminster Hall Debate takes place tomorrow (April 13) at 11am and can be seen by watching online at Parliamentlive.tv.