Saturday, 2 March 2013

Now is the time for an East Lancashire Authority

There has been some discussion recently regarding the idea of reorganising of East Lancashire local authorities. Pendle, Burnley, Rossendale, Hyndburn, Ribble Valley and Blackburn.

Driven by frustration at the two tier system where remote Lancashire County Council has almost 80% of your Council Tax (including the Fire Service) and cuts to local district councils that go so deep they are no longer able to provide services efficiently. Many across East Lancashire feel having six executives in each department, six managers in all senior posts is wasteful duplicitous. Many senior representatives also bemoan the remoteness of county hall in Preston. A Lancashire County Council that does not understand East Lancashire and its relationship with Manchester.

Hyndburn and Burnley Borough Councils are in the top 8 local authorities in terms of how much they are being hit by budget cuts. East Lancashire being hit the hardest across the UK. Finances are going to get much tighter before they get better.

Public services that are delivered by local authorities are just that, services. In any debate about the future of the local authorities must be based ultimately on how we can best deliver important, vital services to the people who pay for them. We shouldn’t hold on to existing structures simply because they have been there for a long time or that little empires are vestiges of democracy.

It will save money, it will cut out duplicity and protect services; protect those who rely on councils for adult social care, for education, and for all the other services that are being hit by the Government’s cuts. Services provided from a distant Preston.

It’s time for more localism and it makes sense to look at how these services are delivered in East Lancashire. If a pooled, unitary and Eastern-based local authority could better deliver services under the financial realities of the day then why should we oppose it?

Local Tory Leader Peter Britcliffe recently stated that he was “violently opposed” to any plans of this kind. On the basis that “Bigger is not better in local government in terms of how the council can relate to their areas”. This is not correct. It completely misses the fact that 80% of local authority services are provided by Lancashire County Council, not Hyndburn Borough Council. A new arrangement would bring things closer to the people, not keep them at County Hall in Preston.

Councillor Britcliffe should welcome this kind of localisation, efficiency of delivery and consolidation of competencies. We should not be afraid to shake up the current arrangements just because the people who serve on the bodies tell us not to change them.

There are those that want to hold on to what they see as their little corner for no other reason than tribalism, it is their corner. No District Council is now capable of holding back the tsunami of government cuts and be able to deliver services and a jobs and growth and agenda.

An East Lancs ‘super unitary’ is one way to pool, improve and better deliver local public services, whilst also reflecting the common historical identity of East Lancashire.

It does create a more powerful, more local, more efficient, more accountable body. An East Lancashire council that would have the economic clout to compete as a city region, to have more clout in economic development, face and welcome the growth in the Manchester city region. To look to promote local energy production, better rail links and improved transport.

To have the clout to invest in jobs and growth rather than squabble over park benches and engage in local parochial arguments.

An East Lancashire authority offers even more opportunity though. An opportunity to shape a ‘total place’. To make the case to run the hospitals and health care rather than opaque Trusts. To look to take over Job Centre Plus, CCG’s and other public services. To democratise public services and make them accountable at a suitable scale and not only join services together and to employ more people on the front line with less people required in management and senior management posts.

An East Lancashire authority has wide spread support, removes a layer of bureaucracy, cuts red tape and brings services nearer to people.

Now is the time to provide better, cheaper and more democratised services to our residents.