Fylde coast blast for combined councils plan

Coun Peter Gibson, leader of Wyre Borough Council
Coun Peter Gibson, leader of Wyre Borough Council
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Tory leaders have hit out at plans for all Lancashire’s councils to work together, which paves the way for an elected mayor for the county.

Leader of Blackpool’s Labour-run council, Coun Simon Blackburn, is spearheading moves towards creating a combined authority which he says would be able to access funding of up to £1bn.

Coun Tony Williams

Coun Tony Williams

After being appointed chairman of the Shadow Combined Authority earlier this month, Coun Blackburn warned the region would miss out on vital Government support if it failed to adopt more joint working.

But Coun Peter Gibson, leader of Conservative-controlled Wyre Council which is the only council in Lancashire to vote against joining the combined authority, and Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Tories on Blackpool Council, have issued a joint statement condemning the move.

They refuted the figure of £1bn and claimed Lancashire “does not need and cannot afford another tier of local government.”

They say the move could lead to an increased financial burden.

The statement says: “It was claimed Lancashire could be £1bn better off with the operative word being ‘could’ as there is no bid to Government for £1bn, and there is no commitment from Government to provide this funding.

“Besides whatever devolved funding is provided by Government, it will not be unconditional as it will only be granted for devolved services and of course, there is no mention of how much it will cost to provide those services.

“The only way to establish whether something is a good deal is to know both the income and the cost, and also it is not said how long is the period of time this fantasy income has to cover.

“The Government normally demand that combined authorities (CA) take on health responsibilities which could be a massive financial burden and recently LCC revealed they have an enormous hole in their adult care budget which will reach a staggering £800m by 2020.”

Coun Gibson and Coun Williams said leaders in Lancashire had consistently resisted the idea of an elected Mayor.

The councillors warned: “Lancashire does not need and cannot afford another tier of local government, however working together is fine and Wyre, Blackpool and Fylde already do that.”

Their statement adds: “This is not a devolution of power it is a devolution of cuts and Lancashire council tax payers should not be brought to their knees by the ambition and the lust for power of one individual.”

Coun Blackburn has not confirmed if he would stand for Mayor of Lancashire.

He is calling for a system where the mayor chairs a meeting of all council leaders in the county.

But speaking earlier this month he asked: “is it realistic to think there can be 15 different councils in Lancashire without them sharing costs and resources?

“The Government has the power to come along and change it anyway, but I would much prefer it if we could come up with a deal for Lancashire.”

The shadow combined authority is currently shaping proposals to put before the Government and is hoping to secure approval by spring next year.