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Lancashire leaders attempt to revive devolution discussions

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Council leaders across Lancashire are attempting to revive proposals for a devolution deal.

Fourteen of the county’s 15 councils agreed to form a ‘Lancashire Leaders’ partnership, with Fylde BC the only council that did not join in the discussions.

The news comes the same day LGC revealed the county council may not be able to deliver a balanced budget by 2020-21.

The partnership is chaired by Lancashire CC’s leader Geoff Driver (Con) and vice-chaired by Blackpool BC’s leader Simon Blackburn (Lab).

Councils in Lancashire submitted a request to the government to form a combined authority in June 2016, titled the “Lancashire Plan”. However, last November, four councils, including the county, pulled out of the process a matter of days after Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry had said Lancashire was among a handful of places in the north that should be seeking a devolution deal with an elected mayor.

While devolution discussions have now been revived, LGC understands leaders are currently unwilling to use the term ‘combined authority’ in describing any possible future organisation as the term has become unpopular with a number of leaders.

Cllr Driver said: “All the leaders know it is in the best interests of the county to work better together but the important thing is that we get the mechanism for how we do that right.

“We’ve been having positive discussions since the early part of this year and we’ve now formed a new collaboration that will see us work together on topics such as transport, jobs and housing, which affect the whole county, and this group will drive forward negotiations with government to see if they will devolve meaningful power and investment to us to make sure this great county plays an important role in the Northern Powerhouse.

“For too long we’ve seen money pouring into Manchester and Merseyside and now it is time to ensure we can work together to create more opportunities and jobs for our residents.”

According to a spokesperson for the group, the leaders have so far agreed on a “set of principles that will lead to a Lancashire Strategy, terms for a devolution deal and a new set of governance arrangements.”

While Fylde did not attend last week’s meeting Cllr Driver said “they are keeping a close eye on what’s happening and as we drive this forward I hope they will join our group and take an active part in shaping the future of Lancashire”. He added: “We’ve let the government know about the progress we are making and we’re just waiting to hear back to see how they would like to progress discussions around a devolution deal.”

Cllr Blackburn told LGC that local government reorganisation was not currently being discussed, adding that any devolution proposal would be “in line with the Lancashire Plan that we’ve been working on for 18 months”.


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