According to Regional Growth Minister, Simon Clarke MP “the greatest decentralisation of power in our modern history” is going to hit the region’s politicians in the Autumn. The Devolution White Paper to be published in September will include moves to create more unitary authorities by abolishing district councils as a precursor to negotiating future mayoral devolution deals.
Council leaders across Cumbria and Lancashire are wrestling with how best to reshape the political landscape from 2022. But with competing ideas about the shape of new local authorities across the region, time is running out to find consensus ahead of the September consultation.
In Lancashire there at least seems to be agreement amongst leading political figures of the need for more collaboration and a unified approach to radically change local government in the county, partly in response to Covid-19.
There are 12 district authorities and two unitary councils that fall under Lancashire County Council, which has sought direct negotiations with Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick MP about a future devolution settlement for the county.
It’s favoured option would see the existing district and unitary councils abolished in favour of three new unitary authorities which would cover:
- The Western and Northern areas – Blackpool, Wyre, Fylde, Lancaster and Ribble Valley
- The East – Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Rossendale, Hyndburn and Pendle
- The Central and Southern areas – Preston, South Ribble, Chorley and West Lancashire
Yet tensions still remain. Earlier this month the Labour leaders of South Ribble, Chorley and West Lancashire councils shared their disappointment at the actions of Conservative-run Lancashire County Council; claiming that the county council was acting without the consensus of district council leaders.
With greater powers and an increase in central government funding of at least £30million from any devolution settlement, the fiscal benefits may ultimately overcome concerns about local identity and the size of the new unitary authorities.
In the meantime, the shape of a future devolution settlement will remain a party political football in both Cumbria and Lancashire over the summer. But with time running out to shape the forthcoming White Paper, political leaders in Cumbria and Lancashire need to come together and provide a viable business case or risk having a devolution settlement imposed upon them by Westminster. Something that will ultimately suit nobody.