What a Lancashire ‘super council’ could mean in reality
Written by Skywave Radio News on June 17, 2020
Local council leaders from across Lancashire have agreed in principle to the idea of a new combined authority – or ‘super council’ – for the county.
It is the first step towards submitting a formal bid to central government.
If successful, it would mean the group of councils can take advantage of more powers given to them from Westminster, and will be able to work closer together.
This would be similar to how Greater Manchester and Merseyside operate.
County Councillor Geoff Driver, Leader of Lancashire County Council, stated: “The creation of a combined authority is a great opportunity for the whole of Lancashire.
“The principle has been positively endorsed by Lancashire County Council’s Cabinet.”
Council leaders will now explore more models of devolution and improved arrangements of governing in the future.
But we understand that a lot of what is being said can be hard to digest. Here, we attempt to break down what a combined authority in Lancashire would mean for you.
What will it actually mean for Lancashire?
Firstly, it won’t mean that your local council will be removed or replaced, or told to give-up powers.
A combined authority is more of a formal, legal body that encourages closer collaboration between councils, meaning they can act as one authority on certain matters.
Lancashire County Council has given the areas of economic regeneration, housing, and transport as examples of where a combined authority can benefit residents in the county.
It could lead to quicker, collective decisions on transport links between regions within Lancashire, and can mean councils can work at a regional level on encouraging businesses to invest in the area.
Most combined authorities are led by an elected mayor, who can act as a spokesperson for the region, but officials in Lancashire have been in disagreement over this aspect for some time.
The latest agreement has seen councils finally agree for “the principle” of an elected county mayor, so a devolution deal could see the county be represented by a figurehead similar to the way Andy Burnham speaks out for Manchester.
Who does what?
Lancashire County Council is responsible for adult and children’s social care, highways, education, libraries and some major planning applications like fracking.
District councils, such as Preston City Council, Burnley Borough Council, and Lancaster City Council, look after housing, waste collection, parks, licensing and most planning applications.
Blackpool Council and Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council control all of the above matters, sitting outside of the remit of the county council.
They are what are called unitary authorities, meaning they are in control of all local matters.
What have council leaders been saying so far?
Local councils have unanimously agreed to the idea of a combined authority.
Councillor Alyson Barnes, Leader of Rossendale Borough Council, and Chair of the District Leaders Forum, said: “Councils in Lancashire are keen to work together for the benefit of all our residents and businesses across Lancashire.
“The interest in a combined authority for Lancashire stems from the ability to access greater Government funding to assist the growth of businesses and stimulate the economy.”
However, beyond the initial principle of becoming a combined authority, there has been some disagreement over the finer details.
Blackburn with Darwen Council leader, Councillor Mohammed Khan, is reported to believe that such a combined authority would need some simplification, reducing the councils below it to three unitary councils.
However Ribble Valley leader, Councillor Stephen Atkinson, has spoken out about protecting the ‘independence’ of Ribble Valley.
He’s said to have stated: “I am very disappointed that some council leader’s have used this unanimity to go a giant step further and set out their plans to reorganise the local government structure in Lancashire.
“Speaking for the residents and businesses of Ribble Valley I can’t see any desire to be taken over by a Greater Blackburn or any one else.”
What positives could come from this?
A combined authority means that councils gain the ability to make key decisions on local services, meaning less decisions affecting communities in Lancashire being made in London.
Lancashire County Council say that a combined authority could “streamline services, be more transparent and efficient, and make it easier for Lancashire to attract investment and jobs”.
The creation of a mayoral role for Lancashire could also help it gain some traction in the same way Andy Burnham does as the Mayor of Greater Manchester, or Joe Anderson, the Mayor of Liverpool.
What’s the central government’s position on this?
Central government in Westminster has been strongly encouraging the setup of combined authorities.
In the October 2019 Queen’s Speech, they stated how devolving more decision making to the regions would ‘unleash regional potential’ in England.
In the 2019 Conservative election manifesto, the party promised to commit to “full devolution across England…so that every part of our country has the power to shape its own destiny.”
In March 2020, the government signed a devolution deal with the constituent councils of the West Yorkshire combined authority, in which they pledged £38 million in funding and the combined authority agreed to become a mayoral combined authority.