A MAJOR overhaul of Lancashire’s councils is needed if the county is to secure extra powers and cash through a devolution deal, leaders have been told.

Officials from the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) informed a meeting of Lancashire’s 15 council leaders that a “revised” local authority structure would be expected, Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver has revealed.

Depending on any future agreement, that could result in all of the region’s councils – county, district and unitary – disappearing altogether in their current form.

The region would also have to create a new combined authority and establish an elected mayor – similar to the roles formed in Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region – who would ultimately be responsible for the devolved arrangements.

That prospect has previously derailed devolution hopes after causing disquiet amongst some Lancashire districts.   

Wyre and Ribble Valley councils have temporarily walked away from talks at various points, while Fylde officially withdrew from discussions two years ago – and has never returned.

But the additional request for a restructure of the region’s existing councils – while seemingly intended to streamline membership of any combined authority – also has the potential to add another layer of complexity to the devolution negotiations, which have now dragged on for almost four years.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands questions were raised at this week’s meeting about the effectiveness of a combined authority if it included 15 separate voices.

Previous discussions have faltered over whether individual councils would have a veto on the new body, which could have powers over issues such as transport, skills and strategic planning – and attract an extra £30m a year in government funding for the next three decades.

According to the Local Government Chronicle magazine, MHCLG officials have stipulated that any new single-tier councils created in Lancashire – similar to those currently in place in Blackpool and Blackburn – should cover populations of between 300,000 and 700,000 people.

That could lead to the creation of anything between two and five standalone councils across the county – provided the government offers some flexibility over the population size of each authority.

The LDRS understands concerns expressed about the prospect of reorganisation at this week’s meeting cut across party lines.

But County Cllr Driver described the latest discussions as “constructive”.

“We understand that the Secretary of State would expect simplified governance arrangements for the combined authority, which means a revised local government structure in Lancashire.

“Discussions about the way forward are set to continue,” he said.

Blackburn with Darwen Council Conservative group leader Cllr John Slater said: “In two or three years, we will not be here. We will have an elected mayor and be part of a bigger footprint.

“The unitary authority is not fit for purpose.

“It is an outdated model and we are being left behind by Liverpool and Greater Manchester.

“Elected mayors are coming and we need to embrace it.”

Leader of the council, Cllr Mohammed Khan, said: “We had a meeting in London with Jake Berry and he told us the plan for a combined authority with an elected mayor.

“We are in conversations with the Secretary of State but we have not agreed to anything yet.”

There was consternation amongst district councils last month after it emerged that the then Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry MP had held a meeting with the leaders of the three top-tier authorities – Blackpool, Blackburn and Lancashire County councils – at which they proposed a combined authority consisting just of that trio, with County Hall representing the districts as a “convenor”.

Blackburn, Burnley. Rossendale and Pendle councils last year proposed an East Lancashire standalone authority. But Burnley and Pendle have since backed away from the idea after the councils changed political control.