The leaders of South Ribble, Chorley and West Lancashire councils have said there is insufficient consensus across the county for a combined authority, and proposed the trio form a separate unitary authority instead.
Councillors from the 15 Lancashire local authorities met on 10 June and unanimously agreed to investigate the possibility of greater devolution from central Government – through the formation of a combined authority – as a way of driving the county’s future economic growth.
Talks between the councils have taken place over the ensuing weeks and Lancashire County Council has written to communities secretary Robert Jenrick to progress the plans.
However, Chorley, South Ribble and West Lancashire councils say they have not yet lent their backing to the combined authority proposals and have written to Jenrick with an alternative suggestion for a Central Lancashire unitary authority comprising the three councils.
Their letter states: “There is a widely held belief that the current structure of local government in Lancashire is not fit for purpose. It means that local government across the county is unable to fulfil the role it should in providing clear and accountable leadership to our residents, nor does it support the development of sustainable public services.
“Having considered this position…we have come to believe that the challenges faced by public services are such that local government needs to radically change to ensure that Lancashire is served by clear structures that promote accountability and quality public services…
“With all of this in mind and while we remain open to constructive conversations with our partners within Lancashire and central government, we believe that the combination of West Lancashire, South Ribble and Chorley boroughs could provide a coherent basis for a single council.”
Such an authority would serve a population of more than 340,000 people and not entail breaking up borough areas or crossing county boundaries, the letter states.
“This would represent a functioning economic area and serve communities with many commonalities. Importantly, it would fit with a wider reorganisation of the rest of Lancashire.” For example, the number of directors of children’s services and adult social care across Lancashire would not need to increase, it said.
The letter asks Jenrick for the opportunity to work with Government to develop the outline proposal into a fully worked business case.
Under Lancashire County Council’s plan, three councils would be responsible for the delivery of services to the people of Lancashire. This would pave the way for the election of a mayor for the whole county and the creation of a Lancashire Combined Authority.
However, Cllr Ian Moran, leader of West Lancashire Council, said: “For [the county council] to push forward with its agenda without consensus of the other leaders is disappointing, and I fear sets an environment of disjointed communications and mistrust across the region on what is a fundamental decision to be made.
“I am pleased that I can stand alongside my colleagues at South Ribble and Chorley who share the same view as to what is best for our boroughs and residents.”
Cllr Paul Foster, leader of South Ribble Borough Council, added: “I am deeply disappointed with the county council’s decision to press forward and request dialogue with the Secretary of State on this matter without our consensus.
“I look forward to moving forward in constructive discussions with all partners, including County Council in the hope of finding a resolution we are all comfortable with.”
And Chorley Council leader Cllr Alistair Bradley said: “Discussions amongst Lancashire leaders on this matter have been ongoing for an extremely long time and I echo my fellow leaders’ disappointment.
“Over the past weeks and months, we have collectively tried to work with our neighbours to develop a consistent and joined up view of where Chorley’s interests may be best placed in any changes to local government.
“Position documents have been drafted by various councils however, unfortunately, we were unable to achieve any unanimity of view.
“It is prudent for us to voice the opinion of Chorley Council to ensure that the voices of our council, our residents and beloved communities are heard.”
Lancashire County Council has been contacted for comment.