Pennine councils bid to create unitary authority

Four Pennine Lancashire councils are planning to join forces as a unitary council in a bid to become the centre of the next industrial revolution.

The leaders of Rossendale, Pendle, Blackburn with Darwen and Burnley Councils have written a joint letter to the government and local MPs requesting support for the creation of a Pennine Lancashire Authority.

The cross-party alliance says that its plan would see their areas move from "being remembered as the birthplaces of the Industrial Revolution" to "being reborn as the Industrial HQ of the Northern Powerhouse".

The move has been sparked in part by financial restraints on each of the four councils which are not only threatening their viability, but also stymying improvements to services and growth of the economy.

The team is asking the government to back a Pennine Lancashire Pilot Plan developed for the area which would work with the private sector to improve transport links, education and to help to raise aspiration across the area.

If agreed the move would mean that there would be a single council for the four areas, which would also take on the responsibilities of Lancashire County Council, such as education, social health and highways.

This presents the most exciting opportunity for our area in decades.

Councillor Mark Townsend, leader of Burnley Council said: “Reforming local governance to establish a single Pennine Council with the capacity to deliver the areas high growth and prosperity ambitions as well as quality services is essential and this is the the time and opportunity to do that."

Councillor Paul White, leader of Pendle Council, said: “This presents the most exciting opportunity for our area in decades. It would give real strength to the industrial heartland of Pennine Lancashire, and really allow us to be a big voice in the Northern Powerhouse, boosting our economy and creating aspiration for future generations.

We rose to the challenge two decades ago and we can do it again.

"This gives us the opportunity to work with our neighbours who are similar to us, to get a great deal for our area, but to create a Council which is more efficient, future proof and provides betters services for all of it’s residents”.

Councillor Alyson Barnes, leader of Rossendale Council, said: “Two-tier councils have never been ideal but in these days of austerity and reducing budgets we owe it to our residents to get best value in terms of local services. The delay, duplication and waste that exists within the two-tier system is simply not acceptable."

Councillor Mohammed Khan, leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: “Twenty years ago our council became a unitary authority and only good came from it. The benefits are clear to see, with massive improvements in social care and education achieved.

“We rose to the challenge two decades ago and we can do it again, this time making the most of the similarities we have and building on the knowledge and strengths of like-minded, ambitious neighbouring councils.

“This approach, increasing our size and pooling our expertise and other resources, would give East Lancashire more opportunities to keep investing in the half a million people we are here to serve and put us in a position to take on new powers.”

In response, Councillor Geoff Driver, leader of Lancashire County Council, sounded a note of caution. He said: "We will of course consider the letter to the secretary of state from the four councils to create a unitary authority in part of East Lancashire, but are mindful of the large costs involved in reorganisation at a time when finance for local government has been significantly reduced and demand particularly for vulnerable adults and children continues to grow.

"Lancashire County Council has been supportive of the idea of a combined authority, made up of councils across the county working together, which would put us on a level with the other major players in the North West, rather than further devolution.

"Millions of pounds have been poured into areas such as Manchester and Merseyside and we need to be a part of that.

We are mindful of the large costs involved in reorganisation at a time when finance for local government has been significantly reduced.

"We feel it is important that all councils work together to get the best deal for Lancashire, and we believe that it is by collectively working with other public sector organisations, including NHS bodies, as well as with private sector businesses, that we can do this. It is important that there is a collective voice for the county to secure investment and grow the local economy."