Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence


Memorandum by Lancashire County Council (RG 85)

1.  INTRODUCTION

  Lancashire County Council welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Select Committee on this important and highly relevant topic. Lancashire County Council is the fourth largest shire county in England with a population of 1.1 million and has recently been assessed as a Four Star authority through the Audit Commission's Comprehensive Performance Assessment.

  The County's submission will focus on a small number of key messages related to each of the questions. However, the importance of other Government initiatives, in particular Local Area Agreements, needs to be stressed. Local Area Agreements present an opportunity to deliver outcomes across a range of activity, bringing delivery bodies together to achieve greater impact. Whatever decisions are taken regarding regional governance and/or government, the focus on the continuous improvement of local services through Local Area Agreements should not be undermined.

2.  QUESTIONS

The potential for devolution of powers from regional to local level

  Whilst not appropriate for all issues, there is a clear case for giving sub regions more power especially when they are the size of the Lancashire sub region (population 1.3 million+ compared to the North East Region's total population of 2.5 million). There are many decisions that should be made sub-regionally in order to best meet local needs. Many government bodies/agencies, eg Learning and Skills Councils, are tightly constrained in their ability to respond to local circumstances due to nationally determined targets- a more local approach could be more effective, especially in Lancashire.

  The importance of accountability, and joint working and planning, at a local level should not be ignored. Lancashire County Council, through Lancashire Locals is committed to developing its accessibility and accountability through local mechanisms that are not too far distant from local communities. Very clearly making all decisions at a regional level might only add to any perceived democratic deficit in the management and delivery of public services. The Government's focus on neighbourhoods and local decision making will be enhanced by ensuring the correct balance between local, sub regional and regional decision and policy making

  In order to effectively implement Local Area Agreements (LAA) local partnerships need flexibility, especially on budgetary and targeting decisions. For the LAA process to succeed resources from a range of national, region and sub regional agencies need to be adapted to fit local requirements.

The effectiveness of current arrangements for managing services at the various levels, and their inter-relationships

  The current relationships at regional, sub regional and local levels are complex and the need to deliver quality services can be confused by the plethora of service deliverers and overlapping partnerships. It is clear that where service deliverers have a clear view of their role and the capacity to deliver the quality of service delivery is high, eg Lancashire County Council was an "Excellent" authority and is now a "Four Star" authority as judged by the Audit Commission.

  Clearly the impact of services is aimed at a local level and the increased focus by the government on neighbourhood issues is to be welcomed. However, the range of service providers means that the ability to deliver a high quality of services across the County area can be hampered by inconsistency and, in some cases, a lack of capacity.

The potential for new arrangements, particularly the establishment of city regions

  There is a great deal of potential for new arrangements but any changes should be appropriate and should not adversely affect the quality of service delivery. A distinction needs to be made between the effective delivery of services and the co-ordination of strategic decision making. The two are not the same although they are inter related, and the same boundaries will not always be appropriate. Trying to develop a model that fits all circumstances and geographies will not necessarily be possible and would not reflect the diversity and needs of different areas.

  Representatives of the Lancashire sub region have already suggested that a Lancashire Sub Region Passenger Transport Authority be established as a way of improving service planning and connectivity in the sub region and beyond. This would benefit both the Central Lancashire City Region and those parts of the sub region outside of it.

The impact which new regional and sub-regional arrangements, such as the city regions, might have upon peripheral towns and cities

  It is crucial that any new arrangements, especially for City Regions, are not detrimental to areas outside City Regions and do not adversely affect their economic performance. For example, in the Lancashire sub region the area around Lancaster is outside the identified City region area but has substantial economic growth potential linked to a university with a world class reputation and good connectivity through ports and the M6. Any arrangement that excluded the opportunities afforded by investment in the Lancaster area would be detrimental to both the sub region and the North West.

  It is clear that any City Region arrangements cannot be "inward looking" and must accept the challenge of ensuring that the City Regions do not become "islands" of growth surrounded by less well performing/under achieving areas. As a result in areas such as that covered by Lancashire County Council service delivery and planning arrangements must encompass more than just the City Region areas.

The desirability of closer inter-regional co-operation (as in the Northern Way) to tackle economic disparities

  Interregional co-operation is an important issue for Lancashire due to its strategic position in relation to Yorkshire and the economic opportunities improved connectivity would bring with it. This notwithstanding, the fact that there is and will be competition between regions and the effect that this might have cannot be overlooked. Intra regional co-operation is just as important as the County Council area lies at the heart of the North West and contains most of the Central Lancashire City Region, part of the Merseyside City Region and borders on the Greater Manchester City Region. The County's access to seaports also means that it is well placed to develop international connections.





 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 15 March 2006