Chorley and South Ribble won’t support ‘political stunt’ Lancashire devolution deal

Posted on - 21st January, 2024 - 10:37am | Author - | Posted in - Politics, Preston News, South Ribble News
County Hall in Preston, home of Lancashire County Council
County Hall in Preston

Chorley and South Ribble councils have said they “cannot support” the provisional Lancashire devolution deal signed between the government and three of the county’s 15 fellow local authorities.


The pair have cited concern over its value to their own areas, as well as what they say is the lack of influence they will have within the new structure that will be created to oversee the devolved powers and cash.

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The long-awaited agreement was finally signed – subject to public consultation and the passage of the necessary legislation through Parliament – during a historic event at Lancaster Castle back in November.

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However, in the days between its contents being published and pen being put to paper, the eight Labour – or, in the case of Burnley Council, former Labour – leaders of Lancashire’s 12 district authorities had written to the government calling for a rethink.


For Chorley and South Ribble, their concerns have now crystallised into formal opposition to the deal, as expressed within the neighbouring authorities’ responses to the consultation process.

Crucially, however, the nature of the agreement that has been reached with the government means that discontent amongst the district councils – which has been a feature, to varying degrees, of Lancashire’s seven years of failed attempts to secure devolution – no longer has the capacity to derail the deal.

Indeed, it is a feeling that they have been frozen out of both the deal’s development and – if it is ultimately confirmed – its operation that has fuelled at least some of the opposition to the proposal that is now on the table.

As the Local Democracy Reporting Service has previously documented, the three so-called top-tier authorities in Lancashire – Lancashire County Council, Blackpool Council and Blackburn with Darwen Council – have pursued what is known as a ‘level 2’ deal, which would see the creation of a combined county authority (CCA) to deliver it.

The arrangement, which requires neither an elected mayor nor a reduction in the number of councils in Lancashire – both of which have been perennial sticking points for some districts in the past – gives the top-tier councils themselves the final local say over the shape of the deal. The trio will also be the core members of the CCA, with the districts handed just two – likely non-voting – seats to represent all 12 of those second-tier authorities.

By opposing it outright, Chorley and South Ribble have gone further than fellow Central Lancashire district Preston, which, just before Christmas, sought an “unambiguous commitment to extensive and meaningful consultation” with the dozen districts over the CCA’s work once it is up and running.

In near-identical responses to the consultation into the deal itself, Chorley and South Ribble set out more than half a dozen reasons why it has not won their backing – including the value to the county as a whole of the £20m government cash injection that comes with the agreement and the fact the that it transfers control of Lancashire’s tranche of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) from the districts to the new CCA.

Both of those issues dominated discussion at specially-convened council meetings in the two boroughs, where the rejection of the deal was passed with majority support from the ruling Labour groups.   There were also calls from Labour in both districts for a more ambitious deal that would put Lancashire on a par with its neighbours in Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region in terms of devolved funding and responsibilities.

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To take part in the consultation, click here by 26 January.

Devolution debate goes on


Having trodden every step of Lancashire’s long and widening road towards devolution during his time as Chorley Council leader, Alistair Bradley said he was “rather disappointed” to be opposing the deal as it is currently constituted – deriding it as “a political stunt” designed to help Conservative politicians in the county during a general election year.

He likened the agreement to “a bad deal done badly” and contrasted the £20m that accompanies it with devo arrangements elsewhere which have been worth “hundreds of millions”.

“[£20m] is equivalent to what Chorley has got for its Levelling Up bid …so it is not a major investment in Lancashire [as a whole].  It’s a very small investment…welcome, of course…[but] it is not…focussed at everybody equally and certainly not focused at schemes that I can see will benefit Chorley massively,” said Cllr Bradley.

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He noted that £18m of the government’s investment will be split between an innovation hub connected to the forthcoming National Cyber Force HQ in Samlesbury, as well as projects in Blackburn and Blackpool.

He also decried the fact that there was “no guarantee” that Chorley would see any of the £4.2m UKSPF money currently allocated to it reinvested in the borough once control over it has passed to the CCA.

“I think we should send a message back that when asked [whether] we want a deal for Lancashire, [the answer] is:  ‘Yes, we do, but [not] this…off-the-shelf, bargain basement deal that is a desperate attempt to shore up political support,’” Cll Bradley added.

However, Conservative opposition group leader Alan Cullens said that there was a simpler question to be answered:  “Deal or no deal?”

He stressed that the council could do nothing to change the government’s legislative parameters for each of the three levels of devolution on offer to local areas.

 “There [are] no options to this one.   If we decide it’s not worth having this deal, then you’re rejecting [the] £20m worth of investment which Cllr Bradley says is welcome.

“The chances are, if this deal is rejected, then there is no deal on the table and there is going to be no parliamentary time to discuss this. You are…saying that we want no deal for Lancashire – and that’s not what we can accept.

“It may not be perfect, but where is the perfect deal for Chorley?  This can be built on, it’s a starting point.  All parties may not be totally happy with what the governance is, but that’s the government’s decision…it’s not going to be changed by whatever [the Chorley Council consultation response says],”  Cllr Cullens said.

He predicted that the Samlesbury and Blackburn projects earmarked for funding in the deal would “bring a lot of jobs to this town” and stressed that pushing for a more wide-ranging level 3 deal would require an elected mayor.

While Cllr Bradley said that he was “potentially” open to that possibility if the extra money for the county made it worthwhile, Cllr Cullens was more resolute, simply stating: “No, thanks,” – and warning that it would actually equate to a loss of power for districts like Chorley.

South Ribble

Labour council leader Paul Foster challenged anybody to show him “what benefits” South Ribble would get from the deal in its current form, before promptly pointing to what he regarded as a significant loss – control of the brough’s £3.3m in UKSPF money shifting from the district authority to the new CCA.

“I’m aghast that the one additional funding stream that the district councils have managed to negotiate…from the government since 2010…the county council are proposing taking…and redistributing it [according] to their priorities, whatever their priorities may be.

“This isn’t devolution – this is a really bad deal for the people of South Ribble and, more widely, the people of Lancashire,” Cllr Foster said.

Cabinet member for resources Matthew Tomlinson said that the £20m one-off cash boost so far promised to Lancashire contrasted with the £30m a year extra for the next 30 years that had gone to the Liverpool City Region as part of its deal – meaning the latter got nearly £1,900 per person, around “100 times much” as the “princely sum” of £16.18 per person being sent Lancashire’s way.


Lancashire County Council has previously said that a study has shown the absence of a devolution deal is costing the local economy £1bn a year. The government also regularly offers more generous scheme-specific funding pots to areas with devolved powers – although usually mayor-led areas – than those without.

South Ribble’s Conservative opposition group leader Karen Walton supported the idea of the districts retaining responsibility for the UKSPF and also called for a “formal mechanism” for the CCA to consult with district councils once it is operational.  However, she proposed that those narrow requests replace what she described as the negativity set out in South Ribble’s consultation response.

Cllr Walton said that the deal had been “especially designed, uniquely for Lancashire, without the elected mayor and the mayoral office and the extra costs this would have incurred [for] all our residents”.

She added:  “The proposed deal is something that we can build on and we should embark on this…in a positive way, seeing it as the beginning of a long devolution journey, evolving over time, as all the [other] devolution deals have…done.”

Lancashire can’t carry on losing ground

Responding to Chorley and South Ribble’s rejection of the deal she helped to negotiate, Lancashire County Council leader Phillippa Williamson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service:  “We believe the time is now and stand ready to deliver for the people and businesses of Lancashire.

“We know that devolution is a journey – Manchester is on its seventh deal – and without a deal, Whitehall will continue to make important decisions which we believe are better made here.

“For too long Lancashire has been losing ground to other economies in the North West. We are surrounded by combined authorities with devolution deals and need to level the playing field.

“This is only the start of the journey for Lancashire, but if we don’t take this opportunity now, it could be years before we get another chance.”

Conservative-controlled Hyndburn Council also voted against the deal earlier this month.

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