THE leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council has warned that Lancashire could suffer if its political leaders cannot agree on a devolution deal with the government.

Cllr Mohammed Khan fears the county could be ‘left very much behind’ by areas in the North which secure new powers and cash from Whitehall.

He spoke out after the government wrote to the leaders of Lancashire’s 15 councils inviting them to come up with new plans for devolution.

It followed Prime Minister Boris Johnson promising to ‘rewrite the rule book’ on the issue and offering a more flexible approach without the necessity to create a single combined authority with an elected Mayor or the abolition of existing councils.

Cllr Khan - who in 2019 proposed a new Pennine Lancashire authority combining Blackburn with Darwen, Hyndburn, Burnley, Pendle, Rossendale and possibly Ribble Valley boroughs - fears a repeat of previous failures to secure agreement between council bosses could jeopardise the benefits of devolution.

He said: “I hope some common sense will prevail. I just want the best for the whole of Lancashire.  My personal opinion is that the easiest solution is still three unitary authorities with half a million population in each.”

Bur Ribble Valley Council leader Cllr Stephen Atkinson made clear he still had reservations about devolution pointing to a 10,000 signature petition calling for the retention of the current borough.

His concerns have been echoed by Burnley and Pendle Councils in the past.

Cllr Atkinson said: “The pandemic has tested the capacity of councils to deliver core services, which we have done in Ribble Valley.  At this time, local government needs to concentrate on recovering from the pandemic and not be distracted by structural reform arguments.”

Lancashire County Council’s new leader Cllr Phillippa Williamson has also warned against rushing into a new devolution wrangle saying: “I strongly believe that what is important right now is that we, as a county, firmly concentrate on helping the economy recover from the effects of the pandemic. I would not want local government reorganisation to become a distraction to that aim.”

A government spokesman said: “We are conscious that councils will want to see the Levelling Up White Paper before considering developing proposals for reform.”