At a meeting of the Full Council on Monday 20th July, Members agreed to explore the option of a combined authority and local government re-organisation following on from a meeting of all 15 leaders of Lancashire’s Districts, Unitaries and County Council on 10th June.
The Government set out in the Queen’s Speech an ambition to spread opportunity to all communities across the UK with the forthcoming Devolution White Paper marking the first steps in moving towards ensuring the country is in the best possible position after leaving the European Union. There is a renewed energy to rethink services around the residents in towns, cities and communities. The issue has gained impetus with the Government’s desire to push forward with devolution as a fundamental part of “levelling up” and, more recently, in response to economic recovery post COVID-19. The discussion is around creating more unitary councils as a first step towards devolving funds and decision-making to Mayoral Combined Authorities. Most of Lancashire is presently organised into a two-tier system with only Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen as unitaries.
Simon Clarke MP, Minister for Local Government, told the Northern Powerhouse Economic, Education and Skills Summit last week that the proposals would be in the Devolution and Local Recovery white paper in September. He said:
“It will provide a roadmap for establishing a series of new mayors within the next ten years – representing the greatest decentralisation of power in our modern history. It’s imperative that we continue empowering local communities by devolving money, resources, and control away from Westminster.”
“A move to unitarisation will streamline the delivery of good governance, place local government on a more sustainable financial and population footing and inject more accountability into our democratic structures and save money that can be reinvested in those communities.”
Speaking of the continued success of the north he added: “Even after the worst of Covid-19, the fundamentals of the North’s economy remain strong. If the Northern Powerhouse were a country, it would have the 8th biggest economy in Europe. Our region accounts for nearly 20% of the UK’s economic output and exports over £60 billion worth of products every year.”
Cllr Karen Buckley, Leader of Fylde Council, commented:
“The Government are already in advanced talks with Cumbria and Yorkshire about the way local government is organised and the opportunity to devolve funding and decision-making by way of a Combined Authority. We need to explore exactly what that would mean for Fylde and Lancashire. The last re-organisation of local government took place in 1974 and led to the formation of Fylde Borough Council. The future could look very different and it’s important that the Leaders in Lancashire are given the opportunity to engage with Government to explore all options.”
Further work will be undertaken to examine the nature, governance structure and operation of both Unitaries and a Combined Authority that works most effectively in Lancashire. Councillors agreed at the meeting to appoint the Leadership Board and Budget Working Group to explore devolution and reorganisation and make recommendations to a future full council.