Combined authority plan for Lancashire sparks anger

PROTEST: Wyre leader Peter Gibson
PROTEST: Wyre leader Peter Gibson
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Tory leaders have hit out at plans for all Lancashire’s councils to work together paving the way for an elected mayor for the county.

Leader of Blackpool’s Labour-run council Coun Simon Blackburn is spearheading moves towards creating a combined authority which he says would be able to access devolved funding of up to £1bn.

The Government has the power to come along and change it anyway, but I would much prefer it if we could come up with a deal for Lancashire.

After being appointed chairman of the Shadow Combined Authority for Lancashire earlier this month, Coun Blackburn warned the region would miss out on vital Government support if it failed to adopt more joint working.

But Coun Peter Gibson, leader of Conservative-controlled Wyre Council which is the only council in Lancashire to vote against joining the combined authority, and Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Tories on Blackpool Council, have issued a joint statement condemning the move.

They refuted the figure of £1bn and claimed Lancashire “does not need and cannot afford another tier of local government.”

The statement says: “It was claimed that Lancashire could be £1bn better off with the operative word being ‘could’ as there is no bid to Government for a £1bn, and there is no commitment from Government to provide this funding.

“Besides whatever devolved funding is provided by Government, it will not be unconditional as it will only be granted for devolved services and of course, there is no mention of how much it will cost to provide those services.”

Coun Gibson and Coun Williams said leaders in Lancashire had consistently resisted the idea of an elected Mayor.

The councillors warned: “Lancashire does not need and cannot afford another tier of local government, however working together is fine and Wyre, Blackpool and Fylde already do that.”

The statement adds: “This is not a devolution of power it is a devolution of cuts and Lancashire council tax payers should not be brought to their knees by the ambition and the lust for power of one individual.”

Coun Blackburn has not confirmed whether he would stand for election as Mayor of Lancashire.

“The Government has the power to come along and change it anyway, but I would much prefer it if we could come up with a deal for Lancashire.”

The shadow combined authority is currently shaping proposals to put before the Government and is hoping to secure approval by spring 2017.