Lancashire devolution deal 'just weeks away', government minister suggests

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The leaders of Lancashire’s three main councils have expressed their delight at an indication from the government that a long-awaited devolution deal for the county could be on the table in little more than a month.

Levelling Up minister Jacob Young said in the Commons on Monday that he hoped to be able to announce the details “in advance of Lancashire Day”, which is on 27th November.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands that the public remarks came as an unexpected - but welcome - development to Lancashire County Council and Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen councils, the so-called “top-tier” authorities which have been taking the lead in discussions with the government.

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It is believed that the conclusion of a deal before Christmas was the most optimistic of the timeframes considered possible by the leaders of those councils after Mr. Young's predecessor, Dehenna Davison, expressed her commitment to the process back in July.

Lancashire's devolution dream has stepped up a gear since senior councillors and MPs gathered to launch the "Lancashire 2050" plan in Westminster last NovemberLancashire's devolution dream has stepped up a gear since senior councillors and MPs gathered to launch the "Lancashire 2050" plan in Westminster last November
Lancashire's devolution dream has stepped up a gear since senior councillors and MPs gathered to launch the "Lancashire 2050" plan in Westminster last November
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If and when a proposal emerges, it would then be subject to public consultation - likely to last between six and eight weeks - and would also have to be approved by the same trio of councils involved in creating the new structure that would be set up to oversee the additional powers and cash that a devolution deal would bring.

That would involve the formation of a new combined county authority (CCA) on which the county council and standalone Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen authorities would sit as voting members.

There was disquiet amongst some of Lancashire’s dozen district councils earlier this year when a previous proposal for the devolution arrangements to be governed by a committee of all 15 local authorities in the county was scrapped after the government stipulated that only top-tier councils could belong to a CCA.

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However, Lancashire County Council leader Phillippa Williamson has since been at pains to stress that the districts would still have “a voice” in the new set-up. The LDRS understands that their involvement may be secured via associate membership for two district leaders who could represent the wider group of second-tier councils Preston, Wyre and Burnley.

Speaking to the LDRS on behalf of all three top-tier authorities, Blackburn with Darwen Council leader Phil Riley said of Jacob Young’s comments in the Commons chamber: “We had a very positive meeting with the minister [on Monday] and we were delighted by his remarks in the House of Commons.

“We absolutely now look forward to working with him and his officials to get to a celebration [of devolution] on Lancashire Day.”

County Cllr Williamson said at a meeting of Lancashire County Council last week - before the ministerial statement - that a devolution deal would mean “more decisions about key issues affecting our communities can be made here in Lancashire rather than at Westminster.

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She added: “We will be better placed to tackle key local properties, improve employment and skills and boost economic prosperity. It will ensure that the region can compete on a level playing field with our neighbours, such as Manchester and Liverpool, giving Lancashire a stronger voice right across the North West and beyond.”

Mr. Young’s comments about the hoped-for timetable for a deal came in response to a question from South Ribble MP Katherine Fletcher asking whether the government intended to “look favourably” Lancashire’s devolution pitch.Commons Speaker and Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle also seemed to press for more district council involvement in the process, commenting on Mr. Young’s revelation of a meeting with top-tier Lancashire leaders: “I am sure that the minister should meet the district leaders as well.”

Lancashire’s devolution journey dates back seven years and has often seen attempts at a deal derailed by disputes within the county itself about the form it should take and demands made by different governments in return for the extra local powers.