NORTHERN POWERHOUSE: Disagreement over benefits of a directly-elected mayor

ELECTED MAYOR: Boris Johnson

ELECTED MAYOR: Boris Johnson

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While leaders across the county agree authorities must work together to a certain extent, a divide has emerged over the issue of an elected mayor.

Chancellor George Osborne has spelled out only areas with an elected metro-mayor will be given control of transport, housing and skills, but chiefs within Lancashire can’t agree.

Some say it will create a directly accountable individual, while others believe it would put too much power into the hands of one person.

Frank McKenna, who this year returned to politics as a Labour councillor in West Lancashire, is among the advocates of a county region mayor for Lancashire.

He said: “I think there are some good reasons as to why elected mayors are the way forward, not least that it would have a figurehead for the county who was able to be a very genuine champion for Lancashire.

“I think, more importantly, it adds to the scrutiny and democratic accountability of that role because if you are going to have an official set of powers and resources it is incumbent on you to be transparent and that money has to be spent wisely.”

Coun David Borrow said the county wanted the “whole shebang” of devolved powers, but said there was no desire for an elected mayor.

He said: “I think there will be a push with government to ensure the Manchester model isn’t simply restricted to big urban areas, but that county areas can also have the same powers.

“But I can’t imagine any of the county areas wanting to sign up to a county mayor where one person is given a huge amount of power.

“I don’t think there’s any desire from the 15 councils in Lancashire to set up a combined authority with an elected mayor to run it.

“I just think there’s more debate to be had, so I wouldn’t assume this is the end of the story.”

County council leader Jennifer Mein added: “It seems a bit of an anomaly that we are talking about devolving services and budgets to the lowest common denominator, but to put all that power into the hands of one person seems a little bit odd because that’s not devolution to the lowest common denominator, it’s just handing over power to one person.”

When pushed on George Osborne’s stance that only areas with elected mayors will be given devolved powers, Coun Mein said: “If it was the absolute bottom line we would have to consider it because we certainly don’t want to be in the backwater.”

Ben Wallace, MP for Preston North and Wyre, said: “I think if you want to move to a new devolutionary settlement, the only option is a mayor.

“But will a mayor solve everything for Lancashire, the answer is no, what will work for Lancashire is people working together for Team Lancashire and being a welcome place for private and public service devolution.”