Politically Correct by Peter Gibson - November 18, 2015

Coun Peter Gibson, leader of Wyre Borough Council
Coun Peter Gibson, leader of Wyre Borough Council
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Let’s work together but we need more facts...

Devolution seems to be the name of the game in local government at the moment but there is an ongoing debate is this devolution of cuts and blame or devolution of power?

Lancashire Council leaders have been discussing for many months whether a combined authority based on the Manchester/Liverpool model is appropriate for Lancashire.

The problem for me has been when I have questioned what the benefits could be and what the cost will be there has not been one person who has offered a convincing answer.

Indeed I was told we cannot articulate the benefits and we do not know what the cost will be but it is a leap of faith.

We in Wyre do not do leaps of faith; we base our decisions on facts and evidence so I will be recommending to our next full council that we should take no part in a combined authority at this stage.

Whilst I would have been prepared to carry on the discussions, at a recent meeting of the Lancashire Leaders, Wyre were given an ultimatum, in or out, yes or no. Based on the lack of evidence regarding benefits and cost, at this time my recommendation is no.

All parties of all colours promise localism and devolved powers but rarely is it delivered.

An ex-president of the EU commission promised subsidiarity – where decisions are taken at the lowest possible level. That has never happened and a combined authority would certainly not deliver it either.

Lancashire is 12 districts, two unitaries and a county council and cannot be compared with the metropolitan authorities structure of Manchester or Liverpool.

The West Yorkshire combined authority has just advertised for a chief executive at £150k per year and I am sure others will follow.

Yes let’s work together especially on the Fylde coast but we do not need a costly and formal extra layer of local government to do that.

Too much funding goes east

All local authorities are facing difficult spending decisions at the moment but, of course, nationally we still face massive debts and it would be cowardly to burden future generations with these debts.

What all councils have to do is to prioritise, work better and deliver more for less.

Lancashire County Council has prioritised their spending in the east of the county and so little comes to Wyre.

LCC receive 74 per cent of the council tax raised in Wyre, with Wyre Council only receiving 12 per cent and the rest going to the police and fire services.

While the 12 per cent that goes to Wyre stays in Wyre much of the 74 per cent that goes to LCC does not benefit Wyre residents.

That doesn’t sound a lot like localism to me!

The Fleetwood county councillors claim it is right to direct the funding to the east of the county as their needs are greater than those of Wyre.

Surely it should be the job of Fleetwood councillors to represent Fleetwood not east Lancashire.

LCC has claimed that funding will be based on need but they then combine Thornton with Poulton and rank them low in terms of deprivation, although there are areas of Bourne Ward in Thornton that has far greater need than elsewhere.

Perhaps the time has come to recognise that LCC is far too big and cannot deliver the right services at the right sort of price for its residents.

We should keep business rates

The recent announcement of the Chancellor to allow local authorities to retain the business rates they collect is something I welcome in principle, however the devil is always in the detail and the issue here is how would this retention be shared in a two-tier authority system.

In Wyre we collect £26m annually in business rates which is pass ported to the Government and in return Wyre receives £6mn from the Government in grants.

It would be wonderful for the residents of Wyre if we could keep all of the £26m we collect.

We would not require any grant from the Government and would be able to incentivise businesses by reducing their business rates.

What though would be the share out between Wyre and Lancashire County Council?

If LCC gets the lion’s share then Wyre will lose out and there would be no incentive for businesses to take on more staff and expand.