Lancashire devolution deal thrown into disarray as General Election called

-Credit: (Image: James Maloney/LancsLive)
-Credit: (Image: James Maloney/LancsLive)

Lancashire’s long-awaited devolution deal has been thrown into disarray by the unexpected calling of the general election.

The agreement was poised to clear its final hurdle in the coming weeks, with the legislation to bring it into force set to be put before Parliament – eight years after the county first started to pursue a deal. However, last week’s snap election announcement left just two days for outstanding parliamentary business to be concluded before MPs headed back to their constituencies until after polling day on 4th July.

Had they been approved, the devolution regulations would have seen the powers secured under the deal transferred to Lancashire by the autumn – along with the creation of a new combined county authority (CCA) to implement them. But the legislation did not make it through the brief ‘wash-up’ period before Parliament was prorogued on 24th May – and the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) regards the deal as now being solely in the hands of the next government.


At the very least, that means the new arrangements are now likely to be significantly delayed – but more profound changes could potentially be on the cards in the event of a Labour victory at the polls.

As the LDRS has documented, the deal – which was provisionally signed at a ceremony at Lancaster Castle back in November – was done between the government and Lancashire’s three ‘top-tier’ local authorities: Tory-run Lancashire County Council and the standalone councils in Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen, both of which are Labour controlled.

The trio agreed a so-called ‘level 2’ deal, which offers fewer powers than those that come with an elected mayor – because of longstanding divisions over that subject between all 15 of Lancashire’s councils, including its 12 districts.

However, the deal caused a split between some sections of the Labour Party in Lancashire, with the county council Labour opposition group voting against it, Labour-run districts Chorley and South Ribble rejecting it and Preston’s Labour city council and West Lancashire Borough Council also expressing dismay – in spite of two of the party’s authorities being signatories to it.

Concerns included the scope of the devolved powers, the absence of a vote for district authorities on the CCA and the fact that the new entity would take control of Lancashire’s £55m share of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which is currently distributed by the districts.

At a County Hall meeting in March – when county councillors approved the agreement by a majority – deputy Conservative leader Alan Vincent warned that if the deal on the table did not make it through Parliament on the planned timetable, it could be “three, four [or] five years” before another opportunity arose. He said such a situation would cost Lancashire “a fortune”.

Speaking to the LDRS after it became clear that the regulations had not been passed in the current session of Parliament, Lancashire County Council leader Phillippa Williamson said County Hall “remain[s] committed to forming a combined county authority for Lancashire”.

“We are continuing our planning and work with Whitehall officials so we can progress the deal following the election,” she added.

Blackburn with Darwen Council leader Phil Riley said it was “obviously disappointing” that the deal’s progress had been halted by the dissolution of Parliament.

However, he added: “Given the appetite for the deal from Lancashire businesses and institutions, we would expect the next government to move the deal on as a matter of urgency.”

Blackpool Council leader Lynn Williams was also approached for comment.

The top-tier leaders have each previously stressed that the level 2 agreement means Lancashire is at least – and at last – on the ‘devolution bus’, with the potential for a deeper arrangement to follow later.

However, recently-elected Labour opposition group leader Matthew Tominlson told the LDRS that the election was a chance for Lancashire to get a better deal than the “half-baked” one it had struck.

“There was always the danger that [it] would fail to get through Parliament. That’s why Lancashire’s [county] Tories – and MPs – were in such a rush to steamroller it through.

“Hopefully, a new Labour government will be willing to talk to us about a devo deal with real power and influence to change the lives of Lancastrians for the better,” County Cllr Tomlinson said.

The Labour Party has said in its “Power Up Britain” plan that it will create “a new, clearer framework for English devolution” – but the document is not explicit about the relationship between the powers on offer to local areas and any requirement for an elected mayor to oversee them.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Lancashire County Council said of the potential delay to the current deal: “We firmly believe that a devolution deal continues to be in the best interests of both Lancashire’s residents and businesses.

“Officers are now in discussion with government officials regarding the impact the calling of the general election will have on the progression of the Lancashire combined county authority regulations.”