SIX East Lancashire councils should merge into a single all-purpose authority to save cash, Blackburn with Darwen Tory group leader Mike Lee has proposed.
He is writing to local government secretary Eric Pickles seeking government backing for the plan which he believes could save millions.
His blueprint to amalgamate Ribble Valley, Burnley, Hyndburn, Blackburn with Darwen, Pendle and Rossendale into a single unitary authority has had a mixed reaction.
Lancashire County Council would be split in half under the plan. Its leader, Geoff Driver, said the plan was not an option while Burnley council Labour leader Julie Cooper said it would be ‘deeply unpopular’ in her borough.
Coun Lee revealed his plan at a meeting of Blackburn with Darwen’s full council forum discussing the ruling Labour group’s £30 million cuts programme. Senior Labour man Dave Harling branded it ‘a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale’.
Coun Lee said: “We need to consider whether a move towards a larger Pennine Lancashire unitary authority is something we need consider. The savings generated would help support front line services.
“We need to drive a unitary authority across the six council in Penne Lancashire.”
Coun Driver said: “The Government has made it clear, as recently as this last week, that local government reorganisation is simply not on their agenda.”
Coun Cooper said: “I don’t think this would go down well in Burnley. It would be deeply unpopular in the town.” Pendle council’s Tory leader Joe Cooney said it was ‘an option worth looking at’ depending on the detail.
Burnley Liberal Democrat Leader Gordon Birtwistle said: “I think this would be sensible. It could save millions of pounds.”
Blackburn MP Jack Straw said: “I think there is a very strong case for one or two unitary authorities in East Lancashire. However the county council would strongly oppose any such moves.”
Blackburn with Darwen council’s Labour leader Kate Hollern said: “This is a good idea. It would have my full support.”
Local government minister Brandon Lewis said the coalition scrapped plans for top-down unitary local government restructuring as it would have been expensive and disruptive.