Politically Correct by Simon Blackburn

Coun. Simon Blackburn, Leader of Blackpool Council, and Chairman of the Shadow Combined Authority (s)
Coun. Simon Blackburn, Leader of Blackpool Council, and Chairman of the Shadow Combined Authority (s)
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Working jointly to secure county’s future

For two years now, the 15 councils in Lancashire have been trying to form something called a Combined Authority.

We are doing this for two reasons. Firstly, because we recognise that by working more closely together, we can do more stuff, better and cheaper.

Secondly, the Government has made it clear that if we want devolution, we’ll have to have a Combined Authority.

Devolution means power being transferred from MPs and civil servants in London, to the people of Lancashire.

All 15 councils in Lancashire will still continue to exist, and will have all the same powers that they do at the moment (so we will still be ‘independent’ in the sense that we won’t be becoming part of Lancashire County Council, and we won’t be giving up any power or money to anyone else). Fourteen out of the 15 councils have signed up to this.

What happens now is that I (as chair of the Shadow Combined Authority) and others, will enter into detailed devolution talks with the Government, to see what agreement we can reach on the devolution of money and power over five key policy areas – housing, connectivity (so that’s transport and digital connectivity), prosperity, health, and skills.

There might also be a pot of money made available to us to invest in large infrastructure projects across the county, over the next 30 years.

The Government may ask us to agree to have an elected Mayor of Lancashire, as part of that deal (because they want one person to be directly answerable to you, the voters – and I get that, even though it wouldn’t be my first choice!) – and the 14 Lancashire councils will have to decide if they would be prepared to accept that.

My view is that if the amount of power and money coming from London to Lancashire is big enough, I could live with the idea of an elected Mayor – as long as each of the councils retained their independence in terms of setting their own budgets and making all the major decisions on their own patches – exciting times ahead!

Eddie helped so many folk

In July, we lost Eddie Collett, a great friend, and dedicated councillor.

Eddie had cancer, but the speed of his passing shocked us all, and was of course tragic for his wife Heather and his children David and Sian.

Eddie’s commitment to his family life was a very important part of what he stood for and believed in.

It was therefore highly appropriate that local Labour Party members chose David to fight the Tyldesley by-election for Labour.

Knocking on doors, it soon became even more evident how widely respected Eddie – and his ward colleague Coun Allan Matthews are.

We came across so many people whom they had helped, or had worked with over the years.

So many people know David through his work as a nurse, or his time as chair of Blackpool Young People’s Council – or just as someone they went to school with.

The painful process of grieving for a colleague taken from us far too soon, has been helped by seeing just how much of an impact both father and son have made on the community around them.

I’ll let you into a secret (just between you and I though).

Even when politicians say they are confident of victory, they’re not.

I’m always very nervous just before the counting of the votes starts.

But this time was different - I just KNEW that we had made a really good connection with the electorate – and so it proved.

We got as many votes as the Conservatives and UKIP managed between them.

National opinion polls are never a substitute for hard work on the ground.

That’s why Blackpool Labour has won eight out of nine by-elections in the last five years.

Council action to raise income

By 2021, councils will only have three sources of income – business rates, council tax and any other income they can raise (through rentals, investments, car parking charges, dividends or other similar methods).

I’m guessing you’d all like council tax kept as low as possible, and I’m pretty sure none of our business people fancy a hike in their rates?

So we’ve got to get this ‘other income’ sorted – and fast. With interest rates at historic lows (and likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future), we have a golden opportunity to borrow money to invest – guaranteeing the council an income year in, year out.

The new tramway will do this, as will the conference centre, as would new high-end hotels, as would new retail, leisure and tourism facilities, and transport links.

So you saw it here first folks – we’re going to borrow to invest – to create jobs, to boost visitor numbers, boost the economy, and secure 
income for future generations.