MP candidates clash over potential Lancashire-version of Andy Burnham

Posted on - 30th June, 2024 - 10:25am | Author - | Posted in - Chorley News, Fylde News, Penwortham, Politics, Preston News, Ribble Valley News, South Ribble News, Wyre News
South Ribble hustings panel

Two of the Lancashire candidates vying for votes in the general election have clashed over whether the county should have an elected mayor.

The Labour and Conservative hopefuls contesting the South Ribble constituency set out very different visions for Lancashire’s future at a hustings event.

Labour’s Paul Foster said a mayor with powers like those enjoyed by Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester was ”the best opportunity” for the county – but his Conservative counterpart Katherine Fletcher blasted him for seeking “another tier of local government”.

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A provisional devolution deal for Lancashire was finally struck late last year between the government and the three top-tier local authorities in the area – Lancashire County Council and Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen councils.

However, the terms of the ‘tier two’ agreement caused dismay amongst many of the county’s dozen district authorities, with some – including South Ribble Borough Council, which Paul Foster currently leads – coming out against the deal because of concerns over what they regarded as its limited scope and their role in its future delivery.

The calling of the snap election actually meant the legislation to bring the new arrangements into force did not make it through Parliament, leaving in limbo a deal that Lancashire first started to pursue eight years ago.

That by-product of the forthcoming poll was welcomed by Mr. Foster who said he wanted to secure a different deal for Lancashire.

“What I want to see…is a full on ‘tier three’ elected mayor combined authority for Lancashire – just the same as we have in Liverpool and in Manchester  That would bring [a] huge amount of investment into our county

“We need an elected mayor for Lancashire, with all the tier three powers that go with it.  That is singularly the best opportunity that this county has – and South Ribble has – to deal with [the] huge infrastructure [and] transport challenges that we face.

“So that’s what I would be championing and promoting if I’m elected your MP,” the Labour candidate added.

However, Katherine Fletcher said the country needed fewer politicians, “not more of us” – noting that, unlike Greater Manchester, Lancashire already had two main levels of local government in most areas even before a mayor was brought into the equation.

“We do need…to be masters of our own destiny, because, for too long, civil servants in Westminster have been making decisions for us – and, frankly, they’re rubbish.

“What we need is to stop that kind of centralised thinking by giving Lancashire more power. If I felt that we could get a deal that would take out a layer of local government, then I would consider an elected mayoral model.

“But the truth is the Tories have a reputation of fighting like rats in a sack in Lancashire, the Labour Party definitely [do] and …we need our voice.

“Manchester and Liverpool are taking over and [the current] devolution deal was the one we could get – so it was the one I was really happy to take,” Ms. Fletcher said.

If implemented. the current deal on the table would give Lancashire control over matters such as the local higher education budget – and would also see the county handed a one-off £20m to fund “innovation-led growth”.  However, that is far less than the £30m every year for 30 years that was considered the gold standard when places like Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region were doing their devolution deals around a decade ago.

It would also see the creation of a county combined authority for Lancashire, with membership drawn from the trio of top-tier authorities that struck the deal – although the new organisation would not have any tax-raising powers of its own, unlike those afforded to an elected mayor.

Meanwhile, South Ribble’s Liberal Democrat candidate Ange Turner told the hustings audience that she feared that a “big mayoral model” would ultimately threaten the role of district authorities such as South Ribble of which she, like Paul Foster, is a member.

“I would prefer us to have the district councils with the local people from the community who are elected members to decide what they do about the budgets that we have to spend .

“I don’t think it’s good for Lancashire to have [the proposed] deal,” Ms. Turner said.

Reform UK candidate Andy Hunter said he was concerned with securing less “state interference” and was opposed to extra tiers of government that would need to be accessed in order “to get anything done”.

“It strikes me that the environment of Manchester…is very different to the environment of Heskin or of Mawdesley or of Longton and Hutton.

“We need to look and start from the top down, but also from the bottom up, and figure out what’s good for local communities…and I think Lancashire is alright.

“I think we want to fight for Lancashire, I think we want to fight for our local communities – and I don’t think we need a big mayor,” Mr. Hunter concluded.

Stephani Mok, who is standing for the Green Party in South Ribble at the general election, was unable to make the hustings, which was held at Penwortham Golf Club and staged by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Lancashire Post, Lancashire Lead and Blog Preston.

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