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'Radical' reorganisation plans should not distract from devo, leader claims

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Radical proposals to reorganise local government in Lancashire should not distract the region from securing a devolution deal, according to the local leader spearheading calls for change.

Chorley BC’s leader Alistair Bradley (Lab) wants to completely rethink how services are delivered in light of the fact Lancashire CC has “major issues” with its finances which are impacting on his borough’s residents.

A “radical change to public services” in Lancashire was proposed in a report which went before Chorley’s full council late last month.

It said the proposed Lancashire Combined Authority should be responsible for economic growth, skills and education, transport, and waste disposal while a trust for children’s services, accountable to the combined authority, should be set up.

Health and social care services based in an accountable care organisation should be commissioned by clusters of councils, the papers added and suggested Chorley could work with Preston City Council and South Ribble BC to do this as well as sharing back office and customer service functions.

A “new model” of single tier council which would “focus on prevention and early intervention” services should also be set up while “services related to the wider determinants of health” should be “integrated with NHS community and mental health services”.

The proposals have drawn criticism from the leaders of the county council and Preston City Council, and come after Cllr Bradley told LGC last month leaders had had their “fallings out early on” when discussing devolution.

A row about reorganisation derailed Oxfordshire’s devolution discussions this year. However, Cllr Bradley did not believe that should happen in Lancashire as he said he had been “consistent” in his calls for change over a number of years. He said it was up to others if they “wish to be distracted” by the proposals.

Cllr Bradley, who is also vice chair of the shadow combined authority, told LGC: “It’s not about the structure, it’s about getting on doing things that are most suitable to them. It’s the government and other people who seem to be hidebound by structure. If they just let us do what we want to do and feel that we can do then that’d be great. Release the shackles and let us organise Lancashire how we want it to be organised through devolution.”

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, published in September, forecast Lancashire CC to have a cumulative deficit of £398m by the end of 2020-21 and an in-year deficit that year of £148m. LGC reported in October how Lancashire had rejected the government’s offer of a multi-year finance settlement as the council would not be able to balance its budget in the near future.

Cllr Bradley said Chorley was already having to “plug and protect” some county bus and library services.

He bemoaned the “duplication caused by the two-tier system” but insisted Chorley had abandoned proposals to become a unitary council.

“If we go unitary in Chorley we’ll be as bankrupt as the county council in a couple of years,” said Cllr Bradley. “We’ve got to do something different.”

Lancashire’s leader Jennifer Mein (Lab) said Cllr Bradley had shared his proposals at a recent meeting of council leaders but added there was a “clear consensus that our focus at this point is on coming together as a combined authority”.

She said: “The creation of a dozen unitary councils would do nothing to improve efficiency across the county and would cause duplication and confusion. Neither would the proposals resolve the financial issues affecting the whole of the county.”

There was a valid argument for councils to work closer together and better integrate health services, said Cllr Mein.

Preston’s leader Peter Rankin (Lab) told LGC: “We need to just stay on the road to the combined authority and I’m very keen we try our best to keep everyone on board and we don’t have any distractions. Chorley’s proposals are a little bit of a distraction, although many of the proposals can be taken on board as we look to see what we can do as a combined authority.”

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