FIFTEEN INTO ONE DOESN’T GO
The success of the elected mayors in Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region may finally have ended the squabbling in Lancashire over an elected mayor with a combined authority.
Detailed proposals are being prepared for each of the fifteen, yes fifteen, councils that run Lancashire. The danger still lurks that parochialism will raise its head again to block agreement. In the past if it wasn’t East Lancashire wanting to go its own way, then Wyre or Fylde were unhappy. One must hope that now that the 15 leaders have agreed the deal, there is a real prospect of Lancashire asserting its interests alongside Manchester and Liverpool.
The government have always insisted that an elected mayor was essential for a devolution deal even in more rural areas. The question then is what structure there will be beneath the mayor to run the county. It would surely be impossible to ask the mayor to work with fifteen councils. Apart from anything else they vary greatly in size and powers. Twelve are district councils with limited roles whereas Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen are all purpose unitary councils. That leaves Lancashire County Council running major services from Lancaster to Skelmersdale.
A Combined Authority for the whole council might have three councils beneath it based on North, East and South Lancashire.
So, in the east Blackburn and Burnley might be grouped together (interesting) along with Pendle, Hyndburn, and Rossendale.
The north would include Blackpool and Preston along with the more rural hinterland of Fylde, Wyre, Lancaster, and Ribble Valley.
West Lancashire, Chorley and South Ribble would compose a southern authority.
So big changes could be on the way. They are always expensive and disruptive but essential to avoid the charge that the elected mayor will be another tier of bureaucracy. Sitting above every citizen would be just one tier of local government with an elected mayor answerable to all.
Apart from giving Lancashire a voice comparable to other devolved areas, the elected mayor attracts a £30m pot of government cash every year for thirty years. The mayor would control big areas of policy including inward investment, transport, housing, and education. It will be interesting to see if, post Covid-19, Lancashire might also get a health deal like Greater Manchester’s.
WHO WILL IT BE?
Unlike the Labour strongholds of the Liverpool City and Greater Manchester sub regions, Lancashire is a more diverse county politically. So, a Conservative could be elected. Never discount a further twist to the colourful career of Geoff Driver although age is against him. Keep an eye on his cabinet member for economic development Michael Green.
On the Labour side Simon Blackburn, the leader of Blackpool Council could be a contender.
The government intended that these posts should attract independent candidates with a business background. I know somebody who ticks those boxes and has past experience of political office in Lancashire as the county’s deputy leader. He is the CEO of Downtown Frank Mckenna.
COME ON CHESHIRE!
These moves in Lancashire will put the pressure on Warrington and the two Cheshire councils to get their act together and back a Combined Authority.