If it's good enough for London...

It is looking increasingly likely that England’s biggest cities will be given the opportunity of having powerful Directly Elected Mayors, with significant tax-and-spend responsibilities, and a remit that will include economic development, planning and transport.

That means that in two North West cities, Manchester and Liverpool, already influential city leaders will potentially gain even more authority, and not only over their own existing domain, but likely over the wider Greater Manchester and Merseyside city-region areas too.

Strategically, it makes sense for the ‘economic hubs’ to have the greater say on matters that will stimulate economic growth; and it is clear to see how both Manchester and Liverpool have been regenerated on the back of consistent and strong political and civic leadership, in Manchester’s case for over twenty years now.

Indeed, such is the success of those cities under existing local government arrangements, that it would be understandable if the residents in both locations decided that the status quo was fine by them thank you very much.

Disappointingly, Preston, indeed Lancashire, is not only being omitted from the list of ‘city mayors’ referenda; but also being told that for the foreseeable future it will be stuck with a two tier local government structure that, at best, is confusing, and at worst leads to the sort of paralysis of policy that we have recently witnessed over the Local Enterprise Partnership debate.

Not only is Lancashire hamstrung by a County Council having to work alongside much smaller, but noisy, district councils; Blackpool and Blackburn were awarded Unitary Authorities back in the 1990’s, making political partisanship and parochialism not so much possible, as inevitable.

The chance of Preston being offered a Mayor, despite its city status, is a non-starter. But why couldn’t we have a ‘County-Mayor’, covering the whole of Lancashire and having control over business rates, housing, transport, skills funding and economic development?

The right candidate could offer the leadership that the red rose residents so desperately require, and begin to co-ordinate effort and activity in a way that would see us celebrate our diversity once again, look to how we develop together to tackle future challenges, rather than wallowing in our past, and pitting town against town; east against west.

One political leader who has shown maturity and common sense over county- wide issues in recent times has been the leader of the County Council, Geoff Driver.

He has to take the strategic view; weigh up the pros and cons for the entire region; and he sees the sense in a united, strong Lancashire working together as one effective unit. If he had been directly elected by the entire electorate of the county, Geoff Driver would have the legitimacy, and the authority to put his ideas into practice, without having to compromise.

Frank McKenna
Downtown Preston in Business