A long-running battle over the future organisation of economic development in Lancashire is set to be resolved in favour of a county-wide arrangement after a number of councils withdrew their support for a new local enterprise partnership in east Lancashire.
Councils across Lancashire had failed to agree on a single bid for a Lancashire LEP - the new councils and business-led economic development bodies that are to replace the regional development agencies - ahead of the September deadline to submit proposals to ministers. With three separate bids covering east Lancashire, Blackpool & Fylde Coast, and a Lancashire-wide bid proposed by the county council.
However, ministers rejected all three of the proposals when the first wave of 24 LEPs were announced in October, telling those areas with conflicting bids to “get their act to together”.
Now the Conservative leaders of four district councils that had backed the east Lancashire bid - called the Pennine Lancashire partnership - have shifted their support to the proposals championed by the Conservative-led county council.
The move by the leaders of Hyndburn BC, Ribble Valley BC, Rossendale BC and Pendle BC, means the remaining two councils in the Pennine Lancashire partnership - Labour-controlled Blackburn with Darwen BC and Liberal Democrat-controlled Burnley BC - could be marginalised.
A delegation from the Pennine Lancashire partnership, including the chief executives of Blackburn with Darwen Council and Burnley BC as well as East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce chief Mike Damms met with business secretary Vince Cable last month to press the claims of the Pennine Lancashire bid.
Steve Rumbelow, Burnley BC chief executive, told LGC the meeting had been “positive” and that Mr Cable was “receptive to the case” for the Pennine Lancs bid, which is based on the partnerships existing multi-area agreement and already has a joint-committee in place that holds the statutory accountability for economic development decisions made across the sub-region.
Mr Rumbelow has said the partnership was “hopeful” that the outcome in Lancashire would be two LEPs, with one based on the Pennine Lancs bid and the other covering the rest of Lancashire. He said this would match the organisation of the Lancashire Chambers of Commerce, which is split between east and west Lancashire.
But the move by the leaders of the four Conservative districts now throws the plan into doubt.
A source close to the Pennine Lancashire partnership told LGC that political pressure had been brought to bear on the Conservative councillors by the Conservative-led county council.
A Lancashire County Council spokesman would not comment on the devleopments but said the situation is likely to be formally resolved at a meeting of all the Lancashire council leaders today.
LGC understands that should the Lancashire-wide LEP prevail, Blackburn and Burnley councils may look to strengthen their ties with the Greater Manchester city reigon.
Mr Damms, whose organisation backed the Pennine Lancashire partnership, told local media that it was “disappointing” that the bids to established new economic development bodies had “descended into party politics”.