Memorandum by Lancashire County Council
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.
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
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.