Plans for Lancashire combined authority under attack over ‘massive financial burden’

Plans to establish a combined authority in Lancashire have been opposed by local council leaders.

Cllr Simon Blackburn, Labour leader of Blackpool Council and chair of the Lancashire shadow combined authority, is spearheading an initiative for the county to become the latest region to gain combined authority powers.

He has said the new authority would be able to access government funding of up to £1bn.

However, Cllr Peter Gibson, leader of the Conservative-controlled Wyre council, and Cllr Tony Williams, leader of the Conservatives on Blackpool Council, issued a statement condemning the idea.

They said that Lancashire “does not need and cannot afford another tier of local government”, they pointed out that there has been no government commitment to provide £1bn.

They also said that there has been no estimate of how much the devolved powers will cost to run.

The councillors called health powers, which Lancashire could take on in a similar deal to Greater Manchester Combined Authority, a “massive financial burden”, especially since Lancashire County Council’s adult social care shortfall is predicted to reach £800m by 2020.

The IPPR said recently that health devolution in Greater Manchester has created an additional layer of bureaucracy without devolving real powers.

Cllrs Gibson and Williams said: “The only way to establish whether something is a good deal is to know both the income and the cost, and also it is not said how long is the period of time this fantasy income has to cover.”

All councils in Lancashire apart from Wyre have voted in favour of the combined authority, and proposals are due to be submitted next spring.

It was reported earlier this week that prime minister Theresa May is considering abolishing the requirement for combined authorities to be led by an elected mayor. It was suggested that this was motivated by concerns that the mayoral elections could provide a rallying point for Labour supporters.

Leaders of West Yorkshire Combined Authority supported the move, with Cllr Peter Box, chair of the authority, saying that elected mayors have been an “unnecessary distraction”.

Other proposed devolution deals are also facing challenges, with Hampshire County Council voting against joining the Solent Combined Authority and Norwich and Breckland councils opposing a devolution deal in East Anglia.

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