Can Lancs have cake and eat it?

The defection of the Bury South MP to Labour has only served to prop up Boris Johnson according to Jim. But his blog this week focuses on Lancashire's unusual bid for devolution and the challenge faced by small businesses by Greater Manchester's Clean Air Zone.

Jim Hancock

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PARTYGATE UPDATE.

I want to get away from partygate this week save to say that I think the pressure on the Prime Minister has eased. The defection of Bury South MP Christian Wakeford has embarrassed those Tory MPs who were plotting to bring Johnson down. The ridiculously named “Save Big Dog” initiative which mostly involves starting to destroy the BBC, distracted the Corporation. Dominic Cummings is increasingly seen as a man consumed by a vendetta. Starmer’s office drink, whilst minor compared to the Downing Street parties is awkward and I remain convinced the Gray Report won’t nail Johnson.

By the way, in recent days Bury South has been described as a Red Wall seat. However, it is not like Leigh, going Conservative for the first time ever in 2019. Bury South had a Conservative MP until 1997, then Labour’s Ivan Lewis often had thin majorities. A by-election would be close, but Mr Wakeford’s previous enthusiasm for such a route for defectors seems to have evaporated.

LANCASHIRE DEVOLUTION.

For years, the various councils in Lancashire have squabbled over what to do in response to the devolution deals obtained by Greater Manchester and Merseyside.

Now they have produced a plan which preserves all fifteen councils, rejects the concepts of elected mayor and Combined Authority but still asks the government for £5.6bn for transport, skills, and housing.

Decisions on how that fund would be spent would need a two-thirds majority of the councils agreeing. I’m not clear on the weighting of the votes between the large Lancashire County Council, the unitaries of Blackburn and Blackpool and the much smaller districts from Wyre to West Lancashire. I am clear that two thirds could be quite difficult to achieve considering the differing interests and the fact that, at the moment, the county is Tory and most of the others Labour.

Will the government approve this novel plan? Ministers have dropped their insistence on elected mayors and combined authorities after the Prime Minister said last year that it was up to each sub-region to produce its own plan.

However, this scheme does not address the fundamental issue that Lancashire is over-governed. Cheshire functions very well with four councils, so why does Lancashire need fifteen county, unitary and district councils?

Rationalisation of local government was one of the aims of devolution, but I always thought the piecemeal approach of Ministers was going to end up with the chaotic patchwork we have across the country. The clear vision of the Heath government in the 1970s and the planned (although thwarted) approach of John Prescott at the turn of the century was the right way of doing this.

It remains to be seen whether the government consider granting Lancashire’s scheme will be seen as part of the levelling up agenda for towns away from the big cities or they feel that reorganisation hasn’t been addressed and it is a recipe for further squabbling over where the money should be spent.

SMALL FIRMS COMING UP FOR AIR.

Plans to introduce charges for high-emission buses and lorries travelling in Greater Manchester from this summer have left small businesses choking.

The government have ordered the mayor, Andy Burnham, to introduce a Clean Air Zone and it is due to cover the whole county. Vehicles could be charged between £7.50 and £60 a day although £132m of government funding has been earmarked for those most affected.

Greater Manchester’s Tory MPs have called for a rethink and Burnham wants more money to help older vehicle owners.

The issue spreads beyond the county with small businesses in Cheshire East and Warrington who travel in and out of the county, up in arms too.

With so many people wanting to work from home, the fumes will disappear!

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