Devolution for Lancashire: Evolution, not revolution

It has been eight years in the making. Since 2015, the 15 individual councils across Lancashire have been working towards securing a devolution deal.

Finally, the county looks to have got one. But what does it actually mean and why is it controversial?

At its simplest, devolution is the transfer of power from central government in Westminster to regions. It gives politicians in those places more decision-making responsibility and funding.

The most prominent example in England, outside of London, is the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

It was handed its devolution deal in 2014. Leading on issues such as the economy, transport, police and fire services, Mayor Andy Burnham has been dubbed the ‘King of the North’.

Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram serve as elected Mayors for Greater Manchester and Liverpool respectively Credit: PA

While Burnham’s friend Steve Rotheram assumes a similar role for the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, the prospect of an elected mayor for Lancashire has led to much disagreement in the county over the past decade.

Although having one has long been the route to getting the strongest type of devolution deal from the government, some think having an elected mayor undermines local democracy.

In 2020, a tentative agreement was reached in Lancashire to have a mayor with “limited powers”, but it never went any further.

That helps explains why the Level 2 devolution deal for the county announced by the Chancellor in the autumn statement, giving the new combined authority limited power over transport, economy and skills – comes without a mayor.

How will it work?

The new combined authority will have at least one representative from Lancashire County Council and the two top-tier authorities in Blackburn and Blackpool.

Twelve district councils in Lancashire will be represented by two members on the new combined authority

The remaining 12 district councils in Lancashire, will be represented by two members between them.

That has prompted eight of those district councils to write to the government asking for a rethink.

In the letter, the leaders of Burnley, Chorley, Lancaster, Pendle, Preston, Rossendale, South Ribble and West Lancashire councils state that “the current deal does not articulate any clear benefits for the county and conversely risks creating disunity, sowing division and breaking up the red rose county”.

A big deal or undemocratic?

Given how long it has taken to get to this point, it is perhaps unsurprising the deal has divided opinion among local politicians.

The leader of Conservative-led Lancashire County Council, Phillippa Williamson, heralded it as 'a big deal' for Lancastrians.

She said: "For too long we've been missing out really in terms of having the extra funding and powers that go with devolution.

"We've sometimes been talking about getting on the devolution bus and it's really important that we do."

However, the Labour leader on Burnley Borough Council, Mark Townsend, is far from convinced.

He said: "It's undemocratic. Basically you're going to end up with four people in Lancashire who are running all the big decisions in Lancashire for people here in Burnley. None of them live in Burnley.

"Nobody's going to accept faceless people that people never see making the big decisions on their behalf."

A public consultation means Lancastrians can pitch in with their views, until the end of January.

For now though, it's perhaps more evolution than revolution.

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