Councils should ‘work together’

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Councils in Lancashire must work together if the county is to be given more power.

The government has set out its vision for the north and promised devolved powers for areas meeting certain conditions, allowing them to grow their own economies.

What local government in Lancashire needs to decide is whether it wants to progress and participate in what will be a revolutionary opportunity to have devolution, or whether it wants to sit on the side line

But the plans in Lancashire will only work if authorities come together and demand devolution from central government.

By joining forces, leaders say the county will save millions, and a combined authority could be given control of transport, training and apprenticeships, even the health service – securing control of jobs and services in the county.

The Treasury says even if councils don’t come together as a combined authority, they must speak to each other and decide what is wanted for Lancashire.

Frank McKenna, former deputy leader of Lancashire County Council and now the chief executive of Downtown in Business, said councils must stop “petty squabbling” and create a combined authority to push for devolution.

He said, otherwise, Lancashire is at risk of being neglected in the government’s plans for a “Northern Powerhouse” - a Whitehall vision to boost the region into a driving force for the economy.

He said: “What local government in Lancashire needs to decide is whether it wants to progress and participate in what will be a revolutionary opportunity to have devolution, or whether it wants to sit on the side line.

“It’s one or the other.”

Current deputy leader of Lancashire County Council, Coun David Borrow, said the county could be at risk of being “left behind” if authorities failed to work together, and said plans were advancing for a combined authority.

He said: “I think, if we don’t become a combined authority and don’t take some of those powers and take advantage of working together, we will find ourselves left behind by Greater Manchester and Merseyside in terms of inward investment, expansion, innovation.

“Whenever there’s competition for investment, they are in a better position than we are or would be.”

Coun Borrow said it was too early in the process for specific projects to have been discussed, but said talks were ongoing with the 15 authorities in Lancashire.

He said: “The councils would have to agree to set up a legal agreement, so there has to be a legal entity of Lancashire Combined Authority.

“That council then enters agreements with the government around transferring responsibility for particular pieces of work.

Conservative MP Ben Wallace, who represents Wyre and Preston North, said the county had already been given an element of devolved control, including the City Deal and enterprise zones, and said HS2 would come within six miles of Preston.

He said the county needed to create “Team Lancashire”, and said: “Lancashire has to be strategic and united in order to deliver a vision for the whole county, and in order to make itself heard above the bigger metropolitan centres of Greater Manchester and Liverpool.

“A dismembered Lancashire working in all different directions is never going to be able to get the same attention and investment from the private and public sector that it deserves.”

Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said authorities must work together to tackle the “north south divide”.

She said the issue was not for northern regions to compete against each other, and said: “It’s for the north to punch above its weight and compete more effectively with London and the south east.

“Lancashire has to work together with other northern regions to bridge the north – south divide.

“What is important is that we have a thriving business community who need to work with Government and others in order to influence our overall offer to the outside world.”