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Jack Straw convenes unitary breakaway meeting

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Chief executives are working on plans for a unitary council for east Lancashire following a meeting convened last week by former justice secretary Jack Straw.

Mr Straw (pictured), Labour MP for Blackburn, invited council leaders, chief executives and local MPs to discuss the idea, following concerns that Lancashire CC was too remote from the area.

Councils involved are: Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Ribble Valley and Rossendale BCs.

Blackburn with Darwen BC’s Harry Catherall is leading work by fellow chief executives on how a unitary council might work, and is expected to report in the new year.

Burnley leader Mark Townsend (Lab) told LGC: “Jack Straw convened the meeting to gauge interest in local government reorganisation.

“There are a number of ideas floating around and a feeling that we need to reorganise, but on which model? The chief executives will look at it all further.

“The problem is whether the two-tier model is going to be sustainable based on its funding.”

Lancashire CC did not respond to a request for comment. But other figures contacted by LGC were sceptical.

Rossendale BC leader Alyson Barnes (Lab) said: “It seems a sledgehammer to crack a nut, to go for such a radical change seems a lot of time and energy for something that couldn’t happen for two years during which we might have missed other opportunities.

“A combined authority might be better for the whole of Lancashire. An east Lancashire council just wouldn’t be big enough.

“Combined authorities are in the air, but the government is not interested in reorganisation.”

Pendle deputy leader Lord Greaves (Lib Dem) said: “Blackburn with Darwen seems to be the only place that is full of enthusiasm.

“Some of the others took the view that if [Blackburn with Darwen] wants to spend time and money producing more reports on the idea, so be it, we can’t stop them and it’s better to know what they are saying.”

Stuart Hirst (Con), leader of Ribble Valley, said: “We went to the meeting out of courtesy but have absolutely no interest in a unitary authority in east Lancashire, which I think is driven by Blackburn and Burnley.

“We are a Conservative authority more or less surrounded by Labour ones, and usually that isn’t a problem for collaborative working, but it would be on this.”

Chorley BC has said it wanted to pursue unitary breakaway from Lancashire, though it subsequently received a strongly discouraging response from local government minister Kris Hopkins.

Wyre BC leader Peter Gibson (Con) told a September council meeting that no money would be spent on preparing a case for its unitary status until he received a formal response from communities secretary Eric Pickles on the issue.

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