County authority plan needs to be fair for all

Every council in Lancashire should be given an equal say in the future of the county under possible new governance arrangements, Blackpool’s council leader has proposed.

Lancashire's County Hall
Lancashire's County Hall

Talks are currently underway to consider setting up a Combined Authority to oversee strategic decisions which could bring in additional funding to Lancashire as part of devolved powers for the English regions.

Coun Simon Blackburn claims having an elected mayor to control the whole county would not work, and instead a leadership board should be set up which gives an equal vote to every district and unitary authority in Lancashire, as well as the county council.

He said: “Places like Blackpool, a usually Labour unitary, buttressed by two usually Conservative districts with an odd sort of relationship with a county which has been Labour, Conservative and no overall control, all in the space of the last seven years, sometimes feels a bit of a lonely place to be.

“I characterise our relationship with the county council as being akin to that of a divorced couple. Blackpool and Lancashire separated on April 1 1998, and while we get on fine most of the time, there are those awkward moments when it feels like we’re the target of a passionately bellowed Gloria Gaynor number, as soon as we’re out of the car park.

“Therefore an elected mayor seems a fairly silly idea. The notion that one person could relate as well to the good people of Skelmersdale, Blackpool, Clitheroe and Dolphinholme as they could to the citizens of Lammack, Skippool, Euxton and Barnoldswick is just a bit far-fetched.

“We only need to look at turnout in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections to see how fired up people get about selecting such a remote sounding individual.

“My embryonic solution to this, and a solution which I think is being embraced by other leaders, is the idea of a Leadership Board for Lancashire.”

Each council would have one seat and vote on the board, with an additional non-voting seat for the chairman of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, and possibly the Police and Crime Commissioner.

The board would elect a chairman from its 15 voting members who would be the public and accountable face of the Combined Authority.

Meanwhile Blackpool’s hopes of working more closely with other seaside towns are also taking shape after the resort hosted a meeting for other coastal and port towns where more than 30 local authorities were represented.

Coun Blackburn added: “There was a huge amount of enthusiasm for joint working around subjects as diffuse as housing benefit, sea defences, concessionary fares, houses in multiple occupancy, VAT levels and pressures on looked after children numbers, to name but a few.

“With the unanimous agreement of the meeting, it was agreed to meet again at the Annual British Destinations Conference in Blackpool this October, who have very kindly agreed to us running a workshop on further potential joint working arrangements. So while we may tentatively look to Lancashire for our formal, geographic combined authority, that is no reason not to consider a further bid for powers to be devolved to a collection of geographically dispersed, but socially and economically united authorities early next year.

“We have an opportunity to put coastal communities, tourism and the hospitality industry firmly on the Treasury’s to-do list, let’s take it!”

Leaders of all 15 local authorities in Lancashire will meet in September to agree a draft scheme of governance which is expected to be taken back to each council for approval by the end of the year.