Campaign to make Blackpool a combined authority ends amid Westminster ‘monopoly of power’

Blackpool Town Hall, headquarters of Blackpool Council. Photo by visitblackpool.com

A campaign calling for Blackpool and other local areas to become a combined authority with a directly elected mayor has ended after plans were stalled due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that a “one-size-fits-all” template for regional devolution would be scrapped.

Jenny Ainsworth, who was a representative of the now abandoned ‘Blackpool Democracy Group’, said: “We had to suspend the campaign because progress was just not being made, and we felt that our key messages weren’t getting out to the public, especially after changing the campaign’s name.

“These plans for devolution keep getting kicked down the road, and it’s obvious Westminster still wants to have a monopoly of power in the north.”

The proposed plans would have created a new mayoral post, with whoever holding office becoming the most powerful politician in the Blackpool region.  

A combined authority approach would have seen a new super-council covering Blackpool, Fylde, Wyre, Lancaster and the Ribble Valley.

In June 2020, the leaders of all 15 local authorities in Lancashire voted for the ‘principles’ of a combined authority model run by a directly elected mayor with a political mandate from the public.

“It really is shameful that large areas like Greater Manchester and Liverpool can get more funding and direct democratic representation, but Blackpool and the rest of Lancashire are left in the dark,” added Mrs Ainsworth.

Greater Manchester is currently a combined authority, run by Labour Mayor Andy Burnham. Photo by Insider Media Limited.

But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plans for these proposals were halted and delayed by months.

The leader of South Ribble Borough Council, Cllr Paul Foster, who initially supported the drafted plans, said: “The proposals submitted are exceptionally poor quality and lack any detail.

“We will do everything in our power to ensure this doesn’t occur – even using the High Court if needs be.”

Blackpool Council currently operates as a single, unitary local authority – meaning that it has both the powers and responsibilities of a county council and a district, city or borough council.

An executive model would have seen more devolved powers for the region over strategic planning, policing and potentially NHS services in the region.