‘We’re better off going it alone...’

Wyre Council’s leader today shocked County Hall chiefs by saying he wants to follow in the footsteps of Blackpool by going it alone as a unitary authority.

By Paul Berentzen
Saturday, 26th July 2014, 7:00 am
Coun Peter Gibson, leader of Wyre Borough Council
Coun Peter Gibson, leader of Wyre Borough Council

Leader Peter Gibson criticised the two-tier system and said Wyre would be better off if it broke away from Lancashire County Council, as Blackpool did in 1998.

The move would see all local council services being run in Wyre.

It comes as a further blow to the county council after the leader of Chorley Council announced he had held talks with communities secretary Eric Pickles over becoming a unitary authority.

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Wyre Civic Centre, Breck Road

And Coun Gibson said he was in discussions with his counterpart in Chorley, Alistair Bradley, to see how the idea could work for Wyre.

He said: “The two-tier system doesn’t work. It means more bureaucracy, worse services, slower response times to issues.

“I do believe small is beautiful and if we get the encouragement from the Government I would like to see if it would be viable for Wyre.

“It won’t be easy but I would like to break away and escape from the dead hand of the county council.”

He said the move, which would see a range of services currently provided by the county council – including transport, education and social services – brought under Wyre’s control, would benefit residents.

He said 73 per cent of council tax revenue currently goes to County Hall but could be put to better use if that money stayed in Wyre.

“It would mean more efficiency,” he added. “With the two-tier system there’s a real democratic deficit.”

And he highlighted the long-running issue over concessionary fares on the trams as a case that has been complicated by the current set-up.

He said: “People don’t know who is responsible for it. If we are responsible for all the services in the local area, it increases accountability.”

But he stressed the idea is at an early stage and he is keen to see how residents feel about Wyre becoming a unitary authority.

He said he hopes to set up a meeting at Whitehall and if the talks are positive the council could start drawing up plans to go it alone.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has said the Government “will not stand in the way” of Chorley’s plans, which could see residents asked to vote on them next May, if all authorities involved sign up.

However, opposition from the county council, which has suggested Chorley is too small for the idea to be viable, could yet scupper any potential deal.

County Coun Jennifer Mein, Leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “As the Department for Communities and Local Government said earlier in the week, changing local government structures is expensive and disruptive.

“It would only be agreed if it could be shown to be more efficient, and yet a much smaller council would stand to be more costly given the economies of scale we achieve in delivering services like 
education, social care and transport infrastructure across the whole county.

“It’s also important to recognise that public sector funding and the role of councils in economic growth increasingly rely on collaboration between different organisations and across larger geographic 

“I’m not aware of any strong evidence that a much smaller council just for Wyre could overcome these challenges.

“I think most people would prefer us to focus on delivering good services together, rather than spend time and taxpayers’ money debating our own organisational structures.”