A plan is being drawn up to scrap every local authority in Lancashire and carve the county into three, as part of controversial moves to redraw the council map in the region.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands that members of the ruling Conservative group at Lancashire County Council backed the suggested shake-up at a meeting held over the weekend.
The authority’s chief executive has now been tasked with putting together a more detailed proposal for government approval, possibly as soon as the beginning of September. A majority of county councillors would also have to support the changes before they could be pitched to ministers.
Under the plan, the 131-year-old county council would itself be abolished, along with all 12 district authorities and the two standalone councils in Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen.
In their place would come three so-called “unitary” councils covering central and southern parts of the county (Preston, South Ribble, Chorley and West Lancashire), a broad western and northern area (Blackpool, Wyre, Fylde, Lancaster and Ribble Valley) and the east (Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Rossendale, Hyndburn and Pendle).
That was in response to recent insistence from the government that any deal must be accompanied by a reduction in the number of councils operating in Lancashire, in order to make a combined authority, whose membership would be drawn from the council base, more workable.
However, as the LDRS revealed last week, the LGA declined the invitation to assist in reshaping Lancashire’s local authority set-up, because of likely disunity in the county over the issue. Their assessment may yet prove prescient, with the county council’s proposal now being drafted without any consultation with the district authorities, some of which favour the status quo.
Crucially, the government does not require unanimous agreement amongst councils for any proposed changes. Under a convoluted arrangement, each authority is free to ask the government to be invited to put forward its own proposal for ministers to consider.
If the overtures to the government, either from the county council or any other Lancashire authority, have the desired effect, and Whitehall considers that it is in meaningful discussions over reshaping the local authority landscape in Lancashire, it is likely that next year’s county elections will be cancelled.
Labour council leader Ian Moran said that he had already spoken to opposition politicians in the district about proposals for a combined authority and council reorganisation and the council would be “confirming its view shortly”.