Fylde and the Combined Authority
This is an article about moves to create something called a
'Combined Authority' - a topic that recently sprang into the headlines and letters page of the LSA Express, but has actually been rumbling around since 2014.
Its the sort of thing that passes over the heads of most folk - it seems a bit arcane and boring. But actually it's something that will / would have a direct impact on
everyone who lives here - especially if Fylde were to have become a member - as they originally planned (and technically at the moment still do intend) to do.
Fundamentally, it's about creating another tier of local Government sitting between the County Council and the Government, but doing some of the things that most people
expect Government (or one of its agencies) to do now. Some folk see it as a sort of devolution of Government responsibilities.
It's a topic we had intended to do an article on for some time, setting out what an awful idea it was, how we thought Fylde was foolish to support the idea at all, and even
more foolish for planning to join it. But - as often happens - there always seemed to be something more urgent to write about.
First we look at the Background before moving to the Legislation about Cities And Local Government Devolution, We then consider the
First moves in Fylde and Lancashire,
following which Fylde decided to sign up to progress the idea of a Combined Authority.
Next we look at the Public consultation that was (sort of) undertaken, after which Fylde's leader proposed that Fylde should join. The plan to join was
Making progress until
we began to see some Divided Conservative views emerging.
We noted the Government seemed to be in favour of the idea. But support in Fylde was lessened when a plan for a Directly elected mayor
upset the apple cart, and
Suddenly it all started to go wrong. We also heard an explosive 'Boom' all the way from Westminster.
We conclude - as usual - with Our own views. We question Fylde's Competence and judgement before offering a
Quick history primer on council mergers in this area.
that based on this history, Fylde's overall Conservative majority should have known better anyway, and look at how they also messed up the
Process to take the decision to leave,
before we close with some Dissenting voices amongst our readers who would most likely have preferred Fylde to join
Several times during the 1900s Government had flirted with devolution of power, either to the four countries that comprise the United Kingdom and / or to what it described as
the Regions within England.
There were three principal drivers underpinning this idea.
- One is to make regions of the UK outside London and the South East more financially productive (so they contribute
more to the UK's Gross National Product),
- another is to meet EU aspirations to destroy nationalism and the nation state (and thus homogenise the peoples of Europe to diminish
the threat of war),
- and the third (at least as we see it) is to enable Government to control the purse strings of the regions whilst, at the same time, breaking (or at least
weakening) the link between Government and the responsibility for unpalatable actions and decisions that may need to be taken (a sort of 'political insulation').
Most devolution attempts did not succeed. And in the most notorious of these - after 78% of the (very sensible) voters in the North East told John Prescott where to stick
his plans for Regional Government during the autumn of 2004 - the government went away to lick its wounds.
Those voters had given 'Two Jags' a problem. He either believed in, or was committed to, introducing the European model of regional government, but the people didn't want
it. (Interestingly enough, the whole country has just said the same thing on a much bigger scale with Brexit).
His Regional Government fiasco had already cost us £25 million by that time, but the Government of the day didn't abandon it, they simply re-packaged it and began to try
They created something they called the "Northern Way." This was a group of folk who produced a report called 'Moving Forward: The Northern Way' which set the foundation of
what went on to become the plan for city regions, and later combined authorities, run by a directly elected Mayor.
We covered all the detail of this at the time (and linked to the earlier documentary sources that led to it) in our article 'City Region Blues'
in 2007 where we
exposed the folly of this whole stupid idea so far as the people of Fylde were concerned.
The role of 'City Regions' was to supposedly to provide the cash that would help to fund the 'regeneration' of clapped out places like Blackpool (which successive
incarnations of local government had ruined through their incompetence), and parts of East Lancashire.
The theory is that; once re-generated, they would become more productive, able to support themselves financially, AND deliver a dividend into the UK's Gross National
But what the folk in Government never recognise is that this approach is a recipe for disaster and waste.
Restructuring local government and regenerating buildings won't
ever solve the problem sustainably.
The core problem is years of appalling social policy and the destruction of community and family life in the headlong rush to recognise the
primacy of self, and for increased personal 'wealth' - which simply spawns more of the rapacious personal greed that damages society even further.
In July 2007, the Treasury published a review of what it called "sub-national economic development and regeneration".
The underlying aim here (as it had previously been) was
to increase the contribution to the UK's Gross National Product. The idea was that government would allow willing and aspiring 'city regions' to work together to form a statutory
framework for activity, including powers over transport, skills, planning and economic development.
These 'City Regions' would (usually) be bigger than counties (such as Lancashire) but smaller than regions (such as the North West) - and because of their reduced scale from
the former planned 'Regional Assemblies' the Government hoped people would get behind them and support the idea.
What happens - as it has always done - is that ambitious and power hungry politicians see the move as an opportunity to advance their own power, and they embark on a
scheme to merge smaller governance units with the promise efficiency and cost savings based on the economies of scale.
But in the real world, the promised efficiencies do not materialise. They usually end up as cuts in services, when promises made to Government to reduce costs fail to be
deliverable after the new organisations assume power (and by then it's too late of course).
From what we could see of the proposals, responsibility for DOING stuff might be devolved to 'city regions' but, crucially, the funding needed for it would still be coming
'at the will' of Government.
And as any competent manager knows, delegating responsibility without also delegating control of the resources it requires will never result in success.
But Government pressed on regardless toward forming Combined Authorities.
Fylde's first real mention of them came in December 2014 in part of a 'Key Decisions' announcement under the old Cabinet System. This noted
'The Establishment of a Combined
Authority for Lancashire' was a matter that would be considered by the Cabinet at some date before February 2015'.
At that time the Council's present 'Dear Leader' (Kim Jong Sue) was also the Leader of Fylde's Cabinet.
CITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT DEVOLUTION LEGISLATION
In the autumn of 2015, the Government published 'Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill'
The main provisions were
- Devolution of powers from the UK government to some areas of England
- The introduction of combined authorities and directly-elected mayors.
- For directly-elected mayors to replace Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) in these combined authority areas.
- To broaden the range of functions that these local authorities undertook
- To 'streamline' local authority governance.
The bill passed into law and became an Act in January 2016.
It encompasses quite a bit of stuff that we now read about now in the media, (but which seems alien to our familiar Local government structure), including things like
Deals', the creation of Local Enterprise Partnerships (such as the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership), and a plethora of infrastructure and economic development schemes that
are run by what we regard as a very uneasy (and in our view unwelcome) alliance between business and (a much weakened) local government.
Eventually however, Government made progress, first with Manchester, then others in Sheffield and in West Yorkshire. Several other areas are now taking steps along the route.
FIRST MOVES IN FYLDE AND LANCASHIRE
At a meeting of the leaders of Lancashire, Blackpool and Blackburn councils on 27th November, 'significant support' was expressed for the idea of a developing a Combined
Authority for Lancashire
The plan hatched at this meeting was to have a Joint Committee of the leaders of Lancashire County Council, Blackpool, Blackburn and the 12 District Councils to progress
The meeting also expressed its view that the idea was probably the best vehicle to ensure that Lancashire had a stake in devolved powers - and especially funding
for transport and economic regeneration and growth.
After that Leader's meeting, Fylde's Chief Executive Reported it to the Council. On 14 January 2014 he told Fylde's Cabinet:
"Combined Authorities, in some form, will be the vehicle for devolution and sub-regional delivery at least over the next few years. Clearly more and more powers and
responsibilities are likely to be devolved to sub-regions either through Combined Authorities, City Deals or LEPs. The existing five Combined Authorities are already working
well together developing transport infrastructure across the north as well as co-ordinating the Northern and TransPennine rail franchising due to commence in February 2016.
There are also talks of a ‘Cabinet for England’ which would bring all the Combined Authority Chairs together with cabinet members moving power away from Westminster."
That was the carrot.
The stick followed of course....
"If Lancashire chooses to maintain the ‘status quo’ there is a real risk of being forgotten and losing out on crucial funding as it is devolved to areas with strengthened
governance through Combined Authorities. External perception would be of disjointed local government and immaturity leading to a lack of confidence from the Government to
devolve any powers or functions. There is a danger that the Government would instead concentrate on boosting the surrounding Combined Authorities leaving Lancashire to solely
rely on the knock-on effect of investment in the neighbouring City Regions."
His report had appended a document from the 'Lancashire Leaders' entitled 'Options for a Combined Authority and Collaborative Working in Lancashire' (It's available from us
on request or you can Google it).
Needless to say, those councillors who were not steeped in the history of how we got here swallowed the story hook line and sinker and, in January 2014 RESOLVED:
"to approve the Council participating in a review of governance arrangements, and discussions towards the establishment of a Combined Authority for Lancashire."
FYLDE DECIDES TO SIGN UP
Almost a year later (on 4th December 2015) FBC issued a press statement in advance of this matter being considered by the Full Council on 14th December. It said
"Councillors in Fylde will decide whether the borough wants to join forces with authorities across Lancashire to create a Combined Authority"
and noted that
"Fylde Council will be the ninth authority in Lancashire to debate the proposals at a council meeting on Monday 14 December."
The press statement said Councillors would be asked to note the progress and decide on whether they want to agree in principle to the Combined Authority and take part in a
public consultation early in the New Year.
Councillor Sue Fazackerley, Fylde Council leader, said:
"We’ve seen all the coverage about how Greater Manchester and Merseyside are leading the way in driving forward the 'northern powerhouse' and it’s important Fylde doesn’t
get left behind. The Government is looking to give local areas more power which we can use on strategic-level matters such as housing, transport and skills – areas of expertise
which can be done better by councils working together. Fylde Council will continue with the same role and upon the same footprint as now. What will change, if a combined
authority is adopted, is that each district council will send a delegate to the new combined body to speak up for Fylde on these strategic-level areas of policy. We want to
create a place where people want to invest and create jobs – if we can work together to ensure that people in our area have the right skills we will be a much more attractive
proposition to investors."
We regarded this as a worrying development. Fylde has a very unusual age demographic and socio-economic profile compared with the rest of Lancashire, and it simply does not
fit comfortably with the policies that are needed by the rest of Lancashire and Blackpool and Blackburn.
But it was clear from her phrasing was that this idea was something she supported. Whether that's because she doesn't see the demographic and socio-economic profile that we
see, and she thinks it is genuinely going to be good for Fylde or whether she too - like others elsewhere - was being seduced by a vision of exercising greater powers, was
Sure enough at the Council meeting on 14 December 2015 the report recommended that progress to date be noted and that....
4. Fylde Council agree to take part in the public consultation in January/February which will seek views on the formation of a Combined Authority for Lancashire
5. Fylde Council agree to consider the feedback from the public consultation and note that following this, those authorities who wish to form a Lancashire Combined Authority
will submit a proposal to the Secretary of State for consideration.
6. Fylde Council agree in principle to becoming a constituent member of the combined authority for Lancashire
7. The council’s meeting on April 11th 2016 give final consideration to becoming a constituent member of a Lancashire Combined Authority
Readers can follow this link for the whole report.
We've seen many of these in our years of connection with local government. Whether they're about joining departments or combining authorities or even regions, they all say
the same thing which you can paraphrase as - Nothing's going to change so that's alright, but everything will be better and it will cost less.
So not doing it would be stupid. Right!
As an example we select the following extract from the report
'Some of the ambitions set out above can be achieved through existing partnerships and better joint working. However, in order to attract and maintain economic growth and
achieve a prosperous Lancashire we need to create the right conditions for growth and provide reassurance to investors, partners and government departments that we have strong,
robust governance arrangements in place that are working for Lancashire.
A Combined Authority offers the strongest governance model to attract freedoms and flexibilities from the Government and will enable a cohesive approach across Lancashire to
a range of issues including developing better and broader skills provision, including entry level skills; more co-ordinated infrastructure planning with improved use of
resources; more co-ordinated approach to housing provision; more co-ordinated approach to business growth.'
Pure unadulterated bullshit, but Fylde was swallowing it.
Phrases like 'strongest governance model' are a euphemism for reducing or removing the democratic influence we can exert as electors. A strong governance model - like a
cabinet or directly elected mayor - takes decisions out of the hands of the many, and puts them in the hands of the few.
We were at the Council meeting that approved the recommendations above. And to be fair to the Dear Leader, whilst positively advocating staying part of the process, she did
stress repeatedly that there were things that were still unknown at that time. She concluded by saying:
".... I can honestly see no good reason at this stage to pull out of those negotiations. Therefore Mr Mayor, I would like to propose the recommendations on page 10 of
tonight's order paper."
Fylde sent out another press statement on 15 Dec (the day after the meeting) where our Dear Leader said:
"The proposal, if finally approved, will involve each council sending a delegate to the Combined Authority so that strategic-level decisions can be made on a more
cost-effective basis – and with a greater chance of winning government support. District councils will remain as they are now. Fylde will still have its own council which will
run the parks, planning, housing improvements, recycling, bins, tourism, leisure and every other service as it does now.
Teaming up with other councils, in fact, will give us a say on matters that we currently have no say on but it will allow Lancashire to compete for funding with much larger
areas such as Manchester and Merseyside. ‘The consultation will involve a questionnaire for residents and other discussions with bodies such as parish councils and business
groups. We need to know what people think before we take such an important decision in April."
That's probably an even better version of "Nothing's going to change so that's alright, but everything will be better and it will cost less." than we gave before
But its equally wrong.
As an aside at this point, this same Council agenda had an item about Fylde's hugely controversial Corporate Plan, which included as one of its priorities:
'Assess the benefits of becoming a member of the Combined Authority"
After Fylde's Conservative group steamrollered this Corporate Plan through Council, councillors from all the other groups publishing a joint statement (which we
covered in 'Statement of Dissent').
"For example, we have concerns about the plan saying Fylde will 'assess the benefits of becoming a member of the Combined Authority' when the disbenefits also
need to be considered and evaluated."
The idea of having a plan where you assess only the benefits (and by implication disregard and do not assess the bad bits) is a disastrous and blinkered approach to forward
But this *IS* Fylde, and at that time they were racing full tilt to play with the big boys, (and, as one reader remarked to us at the time, they hoped Fylde's myopia in this
matter was genuine and that it was not simply a chosen route to justify future increases in salaries or allowances for some folk at Fylde having more responsibility as part of
a bigger authority).
THE PUBLIC ARE CONSULTED - (SORT OF)
In advance of the promised public consultation, Fylde issued the following press statement in January 2016:
"Residents and businesses are being urged to take part in a countywide consultation asking whether people support the proposal for a Lancashire Combined
Councils across the county have given the go-ahead to gauge public opinion and everyone is being encouraged to have their say.
Councillors have labelled the move a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring Lancashire together and make sure it is a key part of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’.
Councillor Alistair Bradley, who is Chairman of the Council Leaders’ Group on Combined Authority matters, said: ‘This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the authorities
in Lancashire to work together and bring more investment and jobs into the area and make sure we don’t get left behind.
‘It is a chance for us to take on some of the powers from Central Government and ensure that we have a bigger influence on what happens in our proud county.
‘I’d describe it a bit like the Lancashire pie – at the moment all the councils have a slice of the Lancashire pie and what a Combined Authority would do is give us the
chance to make that pie bigger so we all get a bigger slice.’
Combined authorities give councils a stronger voice to influence Central Government and draw down more powers, functions and funding to benefit the area and let locally
elected people drive change.
They are not about local government reorganisation and would not result in the creation of a ‘super council’ or local authorities merging.
Each council would still be responsible for the services it provides e.g. bin collections, highways, education.
‘I know for some people it might seem like this is just another layer of bureaucracy and why should we bother taking part but we’ve got to change the way we do things and I
believe a Combined Authority would make savings and bring enormous benefits,’ said Councillor Bradley.
‘I’d urge people to take the time to find out a bit more and tell us what they think because the feedback we receive will guide whether we go ahead with this proposal and we
welcome any ideas and suggestions.
‘People will be able to find out more information and take part in the survey via their local council website or via http://www.infusion.org.uk/lancsca/. Hard copies of the
information will be available in council offices and libraries. You can also join the debate online using the #LancsCA.’
The services a Combined Authority would include are transport, economic development, housing and regeneration."
This was not exactly what we would call a balanced presentation of information to help people to comment in the consultation, but once again we have to say "this *IS* Fylde"
and since they got their spin doctor, we're having to become accustomed to the presentation of one sided information. We aim to counterbalance it.
But the consultation rolled forward, and on 8th February 2016, a few days before the consultation closed, Fylde published yet another supportive press release reminding and urging
people to comment.
The consultation itself was completed and published on 22 February. It claims just short of 2,000 responses out of a population of 1,191,691, which is 0.16%. A quarter of
those responses (518) were local authority employees.
Resident responses (as opposed to council staff businesses and organisations) totalled 1,317 (0.11%)
The tone of the document sets out to convince rather than to report. (We had sent a pretty forthright rejection of the proposal setting out several arguments. But - not
unexpectedly - none of those comments made it into the summary of views received.)
All told, we thought it was a pretty microscopic response, and it led us to the view that the people of Lancashire weren't that excited about the project.
Readers can follow this link to download the full report.
FYLDE'S LEADER PROPOSES WE JOIN
At Council on 11 April 2016 the Leader of the Conservative group proposed that Fylde should become a member of the New Combined Authority.
She seemed to have overcome her
earlier concerns saying that the Leaders group had been discussing this for 18 months, and in December Fylde Council had agreed in principle that it should become a constituent
member of a Combined Authority.
We didn't spot it at the time, but exceptionally the attributed author of this report was actually the Leader of the Council (normally it is an officer who makes a report,
but because the Council Leader had been formally nominated to represent Fylde at the meetings it became her responsibility to provide the relevant information for other
We might argue it wasn't a very balanced report (It was heavy on the positives of joining, and the only negatives in it were what Fylde would miss out on if it didn't
join!). For example, it noted:
"For Fylde the only other alternative would be to attempt to negotiate with government in isolation with the majority of other local authorities operating in the Lancashire
Combined Authority. There is no sub regional option. Fylde does not have the capacity, experience, expertise or resource to engage in isolation with government on devolved
powers nor does it have the remit to do so in respect of cross boundary transport, economic and regeneration initiatives. Equally, government does not have the capacity and
resource to engage with local authorities in isolation, preference and priority is given to Combined Authorities. The fact that being a member of the Lancashire Combined
Authority is the ‘only game in town’, if Fylde wants to secure the benefits and opportunities listed above, is not a reason to become a member, but it must be a consideration
in the decision making process"
She had begun by saying:
"The report tonight has come as a result of the continuing discussions and requests that the Council becomes a member of Lancashire Combined Authority"
She noted that 7 other councils and LCC had already agreed to become members, adding
"At this stage only the membership of the Lancashire Combined Authority is being recommended, on terms that will require Lancashire Leaders, Along with the Chair of the LEP
to meet in public, with published agendas, minutes and reports. This introduces an air of transparency, with improved governance and structure to the work of the Lancashire
The recommendation proposes that the arrangements for a Lancashire Combined Authority will be administered from within existing resources pooled from the member authorities.
There is no request for additional resources or financial contributions to support the arrangements."
But she went on to say that it would discuss the logistics of a devolution deal for Lancashire that may, or may not, be established, and that could have policy or resource
implications. But it should be stressed that participation risk or requirement for any additional resource contribution, including ours, will require a unanimous vote, and that
any authority has, at all times, the option to withdraw its membership of the Lancashire Combined Authority.
She said she wasn't advocating signing up with that safety net in the forefront of her mind, but she thought there may be some members who were not 100% confident, and this
was an escape route. She concluded:
"... the advantages to becoming a member of the Lancashire Combined Authority outlined on pages 22 and 23 of the agenda papers this evening promise considerable benefits to
this council without any direct resource implication or regional influence on our policy. These potential benefits have persuaded all eight of the authorities who have already
voted on the issue to remain part of the process, and I will advocate that member support the recommendations in the report this evening to ensure that Fylde has a voice in
Lancashire and is able to influence the shape or regional policy and governance over the coming years."
So now she has moved to the position that she has heard enough of the talking and thinks Fylde should be a constituent part of the new 'superpower'
We think she ought to have known better.
Cllr Mrs Oades did.
She said what they did know was that Government was phasing out the enormous Rate Support Grant by 2020, and Fylde would have to rely income from on business rates and the
New Homes Bonus.
She knew there would be penalties in place with the New Homes Bonus.
She also worried that Government had already made it clear that 40% of the business rate
will go to London, and there was talk in Manchester of them taking business rates, (we think she means as a Combined Authority), and she wanted to know what would be left for
the rest of us?
She argued that with Local Government finance in flux as it was, it needed to be sorted out more clearly before they made any moves, so Fylde could see the implications of
the decision it was about to take.
She also noted that Lancashire County Council Conservatives all abstained at LCC on the Combined Authority vote and she said
"....on reflection, I think I'll take a leaf out of their book, until such time as more information is available..."
Cllr Roger Small Spoke in support of joining the Combined Authority. That was no surprise to us, he has a track record of supporting the unsupportable.
The Dear Leader summed up, and, of course, the vote was a foregone conclusion
We did note some (unusual) abstentions in the Conservative ranks,
Perhaps only two but it was quite a big deal. We think Cllr Cornah abstained. But most notable to our mind
was the abstention of Cllr Richard Taylor from Warton. We've spoken of his ability and judgement before, and (especially as a new councillor to Fylde BC) we think he was ahead of the field again on this matter.
Our more anorakish readers can follow this link to download the full report of Fylde's Leader and the result of the consultation.
The day afterwards, on 12th April 2016 Fylde put out a very one sided press statement saying:
"Councillors in Fylde voted last night (Monday) to join a proposed Combined Authority for Lancashire in a bid to boost prosperity and raise the area’s profile.
The new Authority, if approved by Whitehall later this year, will aim to unite the work of 14 out of Lancashire’s 15 councils in skills, training, transport and housing.
The first step, pending Whitehall approval, will be to form a Shadow Combined Authority to start setting priorities.
The new body is not a merger of district councils. But the councils which have voted in favour will work in partnership to raise the area’s profile on the national stage to
secure increased investment in the strategic areas outlined above.
Councillor Sue Fazackerley, leader of Fylde Council, said: ‘We’ve seen all the coverage about how Greater Manchester and Merseyside are leading the way in driving forward the
“northern powerhouse” and it’s important Fylde doesn’t get left behind.
‘The Government is looking to give local areas more power which we can use on strategic-level matters such as housing, transport and skills – areas of expertise which can be
done better by councils working together.
‘Fylde Council will continue with the same role and upon the same footprint as now. What will change is that each district council will send a delegate to the new combined
body to speak up for Fylde on these strategic-level areas of policy.’
A public consultation in January and February resulted in 1,944 responses from members of the public and local organisations. Of those, 74 per cent ‘strongly
agreed’ or ‘tended to agree’ that Lancashire councils should work in partnership. Seventy per cent agreed with the proposal to establish a Combined Authority.
Councillor Fazackerley added: ‘We want to create a place where people want to invest and create jobs – if we can work together to ensure that people in our area have the right
skills we will be a much more attractive proposition to investors.’
All of Lancashire’s 12 district councils – apart from Wyre – Lancashire County Council, Blackburn-with-Darwen Council and Blackpool Council have backed work on the Combined
Authority plan so far. Six, however, still have to give final approval at their next meetings, all scheduled to take place in the next two weeks."
That press release was reproduced word for word in the LSA Express with no additional reporting.
THE PLAN PROGRESSES
On 14 July 2016, the Gazette reported that The Leader of Blackpool's Cabinet had been appointed chairman of the Shadow Authority
In August he had a double page spread in the Gazette which led with the words
"Lancashire must now move toward a combined authority and an elected mayor or it will miss out
on vital Government support...."
Cllr Blackburn was quoted to have said
"The Government have made it clear areas will get a better devolution deal if they have an elected mayor"
He went on to say he had been sceptical at first, but had since changed his mind, saying
"I would like us to adopt a mayoral model where the mayor chairs the meeting of all the council leaders in the whole county"
This is exactly what we had expected. A directly elected mayor is the least democratic form of governance you can have. Just look at Fylde. Its political composition is
- Conservative Party 32
- Independents 12
- Non Aligned Independents 2
- Liberal Democrats 2
- Fylde Ratepayers 2
- Labour Party 1
So the Conservatives are the ruling group, (currently with an overall majority of 19). Bearing in mind that their party rules that threaten to suspend any party councillor who
votes against their party line, that means they have capacity to win all the votes.
But the range of other voices that sit and participate as of right at Council and committee meetings (under the Committee system which Fylde now operates) can at least hold the ruling group to account, and can
speak up for the views of those members of the electorate who voted other than Conservative.
But if there was only one Directly Elected Mayor taking the decisions, it is much more difficult to hold the Mayor to account, because the ruling power can deny access
to all the detailed briefings, information and advice from officials.
So the prospect of getting views and opinions from other political angles into the decision-taking process becomes more difficult (as Fylde's councillors found when we had
the awful Cabinet system which only permitted them to ask written questions (which had to be submitted days in advance) at Cabinet meetings, and often were answered in such a
general way as to be meaningless).
We could go on..... But it's back to the main plot.....
DIVIDED CONSERVATIVE VIEWS
Blackpool's Conservative Cllr Tony Williams challenged the validity of the combined authority in the same article, arguing that it had been "a closed shop consultation
exercise" and he worried that removing Blackpool's Unitary status in a Combined Authority was damaging for the town. He demanded a full, in-depth consultation.
was all refuted by Cllr Blackburn.
A few days later there was a 'Combined Blast' as Wyre's (Conservative) Cllr Peter Gibson and Blackpool's (Conservative) Cllr Tony Williams launched their own offensive in a
joint statement refuting the claim that Lancashire could be £1m better off in the new arrangement, and said it would come with strings attached. They also said that Combined
Authorities are also normally required to take on health responsibilities adding that this could be a massive financial burden - especially after LCC revealed an enormous hole
in their adult care budget which was expected to reach £800,000 by 2020.
Their statement also said
"...Lancashire does not need and cannot afford another tier of local government, however working together is fine and Blackpool and Fylde and Wyre already do that.
This is not a devolution of power, it's a devolution of cuts, and Lancashire taxpayers should not be brought to their knees by the ambition and lust for power of one
Especially when Fylde's Conservative group was supporting the idea.
We could never understand why (Conservative) Fylde couldn't see this sort of mess was always going to happen, and steer clear of it from the outset. It has happened so many
times before with the 'City of the Fylde' in all its various guises over the decades of our own experience.
We're pretty sure Cllrs Gibson and Williams were hinting at Cllr Blackburn being the person being in danger of bringing the town to its knees by his ambition and lust for
power, but we suspect that description could also apply to the Leaders of other councils - perhaps even our own Dear Leader.
A week later (on 30 August) Cllr Blackburn had another double page spread in the Gazette which proclaimed that:
"Lancashire must seize the initiative or risk missing the boat again on the Northern Powerhouse"
Citing Manchester, Liverpool as examples elsewhere in the North West who were 'forging ahead' he asked
"...Is it realistic the think there can be 15 different councils in Lancashire without them sharing the costs and resources. The government has the power to come along and
change it anyway, but I'd much prefer it if we could come up with a deal for Lancashire...."
Up to now he had said he would not stand for election as the Mayor, but in this article in the tide was turning and he refused to rule it out adding
"There is a huge amount of work to be done before we get a decision on an elected Mayor, but there should be one because we don't want to get left behind. Whether I am the
right person for that job we will have to wait and see"
The article quotes support for the idea of a Combined Authority from a group called 'Downtown in Business' (although we imagine that's probably not about hiring butlers and other such domestic staff), and also from the
omnipresent Babs Murphy - Chief Executive of the North and Western Chamber of Commerce - who said
"... A combined authority is going to happen and its up to each and every one of us to make it succeed."
(Mind you those who saw Ms Murphy's statistics, predictions and credibility as a witness torn to shreds at the Fracking Inquiry would probably be taking this prediction -
that the Combined Authority was going to happen - with a pinch of salt - as we did.)
GOVERNMENT SEEMS TO BE IN FAVOUR
More interestingly, the article also quoted the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse - Secretary of State Andrew Percy MP (and that's a name with a reputation to live up to. It was
his namesake, if not his actual ancestor, Henry Percy, who was the original Northern Powerhouse himself when he administered the whole of northern England for Edward III).
The (modern) Mr Percy said:
"The economic potential of the North of England is huge.... if we can reduce the productivity gap between London and the South East and the rest of the country by half, it
could add £150 billion to our economy. That's why we are 100 percent committed to supporting the northern economy as part of our wider industrial strategy to deliver an economy
that woks for everyone across the country..."
The sub-text to what this really means was as we set out in our article 'M55 Link Road: Progress?'
It means the Government wants the north of England to contribute more cash to the Treasury because at present a Londoner's annual contribution to the UK economy (£72,000) is
almost five times as much as the annual contribution of someone who lives in Lancashire (£17,000).
So don't be fooled by the very cunning term 'Northern Powerhouse' - it really means Westminster wants more 'Northern Hard Labour."
By October things were going quiet and Cllr Blackburn was off into the Gazette again. This time in their 'Politically Correct' slot promoting the idea and telling folk.....
"What happens now is that I (as Chair of the Shadow Combined Authority) and others will enter into detailed talks with the Government to see what agreement we can reach on
the devolution of money and power over five key policy areas - housing, connectivity (so that's transport and digital connectivity), prosperity, health and skills."
Readers will note that 'health' has now become added into the list - as had been predicted earlier by Cllr Williams from Blackpool.
Cllr Blackburn also spoke about the possibility of a pot of money for large infrastructure projects over the next 30 years, but we noticed the equivalent of a very big 'MIGHT' in the middle
of his actual quote.
THE DIRECTLY ELECTED MAYORAL IDEA UPSETS THINGS
Cllr Blackburn concluded with an acknowledgement that other councils would have to come to their own minds about a directly elected Mayor, but then said
"...My view is that if the amount of power and money coming from London to Lancashire is big enough, I could live with the idea of an elected Mayor - as long as each of the
councils retained their independence in terms of setting their own budgets and making all the major decisions on their own patches...."
We think his outline heralded disaster for places like Fylde and Wyre and Ribble Valley (we'll pick up why in the conclusions), and we were completely amazed that only Wyre
had the sense to see where it was going - and they wanted nothing to do with it.
The following year, on 18th January 2017, the Gazette reported Cllr Gibson from Wyre
Under the headline 'Concerns growing over combined authority plan' they said:
'Wyre will continue to stand up against a Lancashire combined authority.
Leader Peter Gibson will continue his defiant stance when Wyre Council meet tomorrow.
He is opposed to the idea of an elected mayor for the county and wants to find a more cost effective and less complicated way of sharing resources.
Coun Gibson believes an increasing number of authorities in Lancashire are beginning to share his concerns.
He said: “There are a number of district leaders who are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with both the pace of the progress to a combined authority and the fact that in
order to secure a devolution deal of any worth there will need to be an elected Mayor for Lancashire.
“In my opinion authorities in Lancashire could deliver the objectives by simply working together or by working in clusters. “I will be bringing a paper to full council that
will set out options on how we can work with neighbouring authorities to deliver a range of services that will be for the better benefit for our residents, businesses and
Collaboration does not require a mayor or a detailed and convoluted structure.'
SUDDENLY IT ALL STARTS TO GO WRONG
January passed without further incident, and February arrived.
And in one of those fascinating little throw-away lines that are oral nuggets of gold, we picked up the first inkling of a change of heart at Fylde.
At the end of the 'Delegated Legislation Committee' meeting in Room 9 of the Palace of Westminster on 22 February, our MP Mark Menzies was asking a question during a debate
on the 'Draft Transport Levying Bodies (Amendment) Regulations 2017'
The item under debate was a proposal to enable the Combined Authorities for the Tees Valley and the West Midlands to collect appropriate levies from their constituent
councils to meet the costs of carrying out their transport functions.
It was here that Combined Authority bomb went off.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Andrew Jones) said a number of things including:
"Combined authorities are designated as levying bodies under the Local Government Finance Act 1988. Under that Act, the Secretary of State can make regulations in relation
to the expenses of combined authorities that are reasonably attributable to the exercise of their functions, including in relation to transport."
Seemingly picking up on this aspect, at 9:03 am just before the meeting closed, our MP said:
"We understand from this draft measure that component constituent authorities are making a transport charge towards the running of the bodies in their areas.
If a local authority in a combined authority area decides at a later date to withdraw from the combined authority, will it still be required to pay in any costs or charges
to the pool?
I ask that because in Lancashire, where we have a shadow combined authority, Wyre has not taken part, my own council Fylde has decided to withdraw and at least another three
local authorities are now at various stages of deciding that a combined authority is really not for them.
I would like some clarification from the Minister on whether, if a local authority is not part of a combined authority, or if it is and then withdraws, it is still liable
for financial costs."
We think this was the first public statement of the fact that Fylde had apparently 'decided' to withdraw from the Lancashire Combined Authority.
It was an explosive
statement because there had been no consideration of this matter by Fylde Council. Nor had it been an agenda item for discussion or information at any of the committees.
It was therefore not possible for it to have been a decision of Fylde Council as Mr Menzies had indicated.
We're not attributing criticism to Mr Menzies here. It's most likely he became convinced of the change of heart in discussion with local Conservative councillors, and may
have not fully understood the process. But what
we think it does show is that someone within the Conservative group or party evidently thought they had taken a decision when they could not have done.
Then, the following day, the Gazette of Thursday 23 Feb carried the following article:
"Fylde Council could be the second local authority to pull out of proposals to create a Lancashire wide combined authority.
The council’s ruling Conservative group has said it is ‘unconvinced’ about the benefits of the proposals for all 15 authorities to work more closely together.
Fylde Council leader Coun Susan Fazackerley said: “Our MP and other Lancashire Conservatives have shared their views with the Conservative Group and, as further details
emerge, the leading group is unconvinced regarding the benefits for Fylde of progressing with membership of the Lancashire Combined Authority.”
Wyre Council has already declined to join the shadow combined authority, whose chairman is Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn.
Fylde is currently a member of the Shadow Lancashire Combined Authority but will consider a further report on whether to join the formal Lancashire Combined Authority in
Coun Fazackerley added: “However, Fylde has always looked to work in partnership with neighbouring authorities, particularly on economic growth, transport and infrastructure
that have a regional impact and we will continue to do so, regardless of whether we become a member of a combined authority or not.
“The final decision, of course, will be made by full council.”
To our mind, this looks to have been a press statement given by our own Dear Leader. But from its phrasing, it is not clear whether it was a written or an oral statement to the Gazette.
We will return to this press statement later - because there is something slightly fishy going on here.
But for the moment we'll stay with the main story.
Cllr Blackburn declined to comment but said the Shadow Combined Authority was set to give an update on Friday.
Wyre Council leader Cllr Peter Gibson was quoted as saying he welcomed Fylde Council’s change of view.
“I always said that other authorities would come on board with Wyre.
“Another council has said that they would look at associate status which doesn’t give a vote or influence.
“I understand the devolution part of a combined authority has been shelved so that effectively means a CA is dead.”
Wyre Cllr Peter Gibson's quote is really interesting to us. If it's accurate, then what we have is a Conservative Government policy to create Combined Authorities and Directly
Elected Mayors being rejected by the two (possibly three if Ribble Valley doesn't join as well) Conservative Councils in Lancashire, who are seemingly supported by our Conservative MP.
That's quite a confusing state of affairs.
The next development was that on Saturday (after the Friday update), under the heading 'City of Fylde could be next for boroughs' the Gazette reported the following
"Blackpool could be forced to become part of a ‘city of the Fylde’ if plans for a Lancashire-wide combined authority are scrapped, the resort’s council leader has warned.
Coun Simon Blackburn was speaking after it emerged Fylde Council is set to become the second authority after Wyre to pull out of the partnership.
Addressing critics, he said: “When the Government comes knocking to say that because we couldn’t agree on a combined authority, they are going to force us into a city of the
Fylde unitary authority, they will have a long time to reflect on the wisdom of their actions, because that is an outcome nobody wants.”
Coun Blackburn, who is chairman of the Shadow Lancashire Combined Authority, warned Blackpool would also miss out on taking control of local housing benefit payments.
He said that would have been ‘a once in a generation opportunity to deal with bad landlords and reinvigorate our housing market’.
He added Lancashire as a whole could miss out on more than £900m of additional government money.
But he told a meeting of Blackpool Council he would “work to ensure this doesn’t happen”.
All but one of the 15 councils in Lancashire have been working together to form a combined authority.
It would be a formal, legal step to enable the councils to work together in a more structured way.
Supporters say it would boost economic development and transport links and help the county access more Government funding. But Wyre Council has refused to be part of the
proposals from the start, and this week it emerged Fylde Council is having second thoughts as well.
It is feared there could be extra costs incurred without reaping any discernible benefits."
This of course is Cllr Blackburn's stick coming out to say that if Fylde withdraws from the Combined Authority, the Government would make Blackpool Fylde and Wyre become the
very unpopular (and oft threatened) 'City of the Fylde'
Frankly, the idea of a Conservative Government forcing what are almost the only blue constituencies in Lancashire into an unwanted Unitary Council with Blackpool is wholly
The only possibility for a City of the Fylde under a Conservative government would be if the electoral arithmetic of revised parliamentary (and maybe eventually ward)
boundaries, was certain to deliver and guarantee a future Conservative majority over the whole of the Fylde coast (rather than have both Blackpool and Wyre switching political
fortunes from time to time)
But as far as we're concerned, that ain't going to happen under a Conservative Government.
So we believe Cllr Blackburn's threats will remain as pointless as his pet Combined Authority project - which is evaporating into the ether before our eyes as you read this
What you see here Dear Reader is something that's not often presented in the visible spectrum. You see the process of a Council's mind being changed.
We are very pleased that, perhaps after advice from our MP, Fylde's ruling group now appears ready to ask the Council to change its position on joining the Combined
But we also have some (actually quite a bit of) criticism for them as well.
COMPETENCE AND JUDGEMENT
Firstly, we have to question the competence and judgement of those who supported the decision to take part in the first place. The newer councillors share little of the blame
for this, but the older ones within the leading group, and especially the Dear Leader, ought to have known better and exercised better judgement, as we will now show.
A QUICK HISTORY PRIMER ON COUNCIL MERGERS
Back in 1972 Blackpool South's then MP (Peter Blaker) said he thought a 'City of the Fylde' was still a possibility under the Government's plans to reform local government. (We
think that reform he was speaking of would be the great 1974 reorganisation of Local Government that saw Lytham St Annes merge with Kirkham Urban District, and Fylde Rural
District Councils to create Fylde Borough Council). But it didn't happen.
Twenty years later, in 1992 the Local Government Commission for England recommended a number of unitary authorities be created in England. At this time, Blackpool advocated
a merger with Fylde and Wyre districts, which neither Fylde and Wyre supported.
Blackpool's Tory group leader Cllr Peter Callow had claimed expanding the town's boundaries to include neighbouring Fylde and Wyre would give the coast more muscle when it
came to attracting Government cash.
But the idea was rejected by Fylde and Wyre, who said they do not want to link up with neighbouring Blackpool although the three authorities were working more closely
Then in April 2003, when there were proposals to create a North West Regional Assembly as a prelude to Labour's move toward regional Government, the 'City of Fylde' idea of
merging Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre councils became a possibility once again - as councils talked about arrangements for the Regional Assembly. That died the death a year later
when plans for regional Government were curtailed by our friends in the North East.
On 5 March 2006 we published WyldeFyre on the Cards and explained that Fylde and Wyre were to form a joint working committee, and that Local Government in our area might
soon be re-organised again.
On 14 March 2007 we published City Sickers. We said The City of the Fylde was probably on its way again now that the
Commissar had said he supporting joint working with Blackpool. But Fylde's Independent councillors were concerned.
In November 2007, the scene was changing again as we broke the exclusive story that Fylde's Commissar Coombes planned to abandon service delivery by Fylde Council
and have almost everything run from Wyre. Around 60% of Fylde Council staff were to be pruned out in the first move. The City of the Fylde plan was receding.
Then in Joint Meeting Snapshot on 6 November 2007 we gave the flavour of a meeting that heralded the demise of
Fylde Borough Council and set a clear path toward one single Council covering Fylde and Wyre (with Blackpool being a dim possibility in the future).
But after this, and as he approached the zenith of his incompetence leading up to his 2010 resignation as Leader, the Commissar was hit with a firestorm of protest when our article went
out. He had not even told the Councillors at Fylde about his plans to farm out all Fylde's services. He met strenuous opposition.
There were also problems from Wyre's
councillors, and the whole idea quietly slid under the water.
THEY SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER
The point of the primer is to show that long serving councillors have been through the City of the Fylde / merging with Wyre issue repeatedly and it always comes to naught.
Those with longer memories ought to have heard warning bells clanging and red lights flashing well before now about the idea of the Combined Authority. The more experienced
will have been through this before and they would (or at least should) have known how the costs rack up and the savings evaporate as you look into these matters.
It has been a
waste of our Dear Leader's time, and of our money, to have the effort that has been put in to preparing Fylde to become a Combined Authority member when it was clear as a
pikestaff (to someone with Cllr Gibson's perspective) that the sensible thing was to keep well away from it.
Even if there had been no other reason for doing so (which there was), the plain fact that a Combined Authority of 15 decision takers - of which all but 3 were most likely to
espouse Labour values compared with only 3 with Conservative ones - would result in little or nothing that benefited that minority.
We are put in mind of the gentle but deceptively terrifying Labour County Councillor of our acquaintance who answered a question at one of their Roadshow meetings in St Annes
just before a LCC election (the one chaired by Dave Guest of the BBC Northwest News).
Asked by a resident about what Fylde got for the Council Tax they paid to LCC, he answered (and we paraphrase here) to set out some things that the County did in Fylde, but
then politely reminded us all that, as a wealthier part of Lancashire, we needed to remember that our purpose was to pay into the pot so the less well off folk in East
Lancashire got a better deal.
We can't see a Lancashire Combined Authority being that much different in its values and philosophy, and if they chose a directly elected Mayor, we think it would have been even less
beneficial to the area in which we live.
THE PROCESS TO TAKE THE DECISION TO LEAVE.
Our other main concern is *how* the 'decision' to leave has been (or will be) taken.
There is only one lawful way that Fylde can take a decision to leave the Shadow Authority it took the decision to join.
And that is for a meeting of the full Borough Council to debate the matters that need to be considered for and against changing
its former decision.
But - if the newspaper reports and quotations are accurate - the impetus for the reconsideration appears to have come from our MP and have been 'provisionally' decided
outside any of Fylde Council's meetings..
We are especially concerned about the Gazette's statement:
"Fylde Council leader Coun Susan Fazackerley said: "Our MP and other Lancashire Conservatives have shared their views with the Conservative Group and, as further details
emerge, the leading group is unconvinced regarding the benefits for Fylde of progressing with membership of the Lancashire Combined Authority."
Why should we be concerned?
Well, if Cllr Fazackerley made her statement as the Leader of Fylde Council (as the article suggests) should she absolutely should not have done so (unless she had first
been authorised to do so by a decision the whole council had taken, - and this was not the case).
It may be that the attribution of the term 'Leader' to this quotation was not what Cllr Fazackerley said, but was a decision taken by the reporter - in which
case, the Dear Leader was not claiming to speak for
Fylde at all, and only for the Conservative group
This is an important distinction because Fylde abandoned it's Cabinet style of governance and now uses the Committee System, so the position of Council leader differs
greatly at Fylde from most other Councils in the UK.
The post of Leader at Fylde has no decision-taking powers. Only the full council (or a committee with delegated authority) can take a decision.
Under the Committee system (which Fylde now operates) decisions must be taken by a group of councillors that reflect the political balance of the whole Council, and the
Leader is legally prohibited from taking decisions individually.
The statement did cause some political harrumphing locally when it came out, but we suspect Cllr Fazackerley did not make it as Fylde's Leader, and it was simply attributed
in that way incorrectly.
DISSENTING VOICES FROM READERS
Now, we've already made our position pretty clear on this matter.
But we are aware of other views amongst our readers.
One long-standing reader never frails to disagree with us
whenever power sharing or merging of councils is discussed. They (repeatedly) tell us that - in their view - Fylde simply doesn't know what it is doing and the sooner they
hand control to a bigger authority the better. We expect to hear from them shortly pointing our the error of our views.
We also have another dissenting voice (who probably was the final prod to move us to print with this article) when they wrote to ask if it was a matter we intended to cover
because, in their view, Fylde was walking away from an important opportunity. They said if Lancashire could not act as a Combined Authority in the North West it would open the
door to Liverpool and Manchester to be the only significant contenders for the powers (and money) that will go with devolved powers in our region.
The gist of their argument begins with an assumption that a devolution of some powers to the regions is now going to happen whether we like it or not. Furthermore, they
argue that the large conurbations of Greater Manchester and Liverpool will certainly be bidding for a large share of the powers and resources that will be available in our
North West region, and they both will have elected mayors who can more easily represent them in this endeavour.
Our reader also assumes that a Lancashire Combined Authority which is both divided and without a strong leader (Mayor) will not be in a fair fight for an equal share of
whatever resources are going and that, therefore, we ordinary residents will possibly be disadvantaged because we live in the wrong general area.
We reproduce these views because this reader's background (experience at the European level) is especially worth sharing. They believe that being represented at the top table with the
right cards to play is essential in such situations. And it's more important to be a small or medium sized fish in a big pond, that a big fish in a small one
So we're happy to let our other readers hear the contra view on this matter as well.
We expect that in the fairly near future, Fylde's Dear Leader will bring an item to a meeting of the Full Council to withdraw Fylde from the Combined Authority, or to effect some sort of affiliate
But if Wyre's Cllr Gibson is correct, (that Fylde's pulling out and Ribble Valley's being 'iffy') is a combination will 'do for' the idea of a Combined Authority anyway,
then it's already gone pear shaped, and the plan will follow all the previous attempts at merging and power sharing in Fylde into the dustbin marked "Oh Well".
Dated: 22 March 2017