Councillors in Lancashire have clashed over a potential new unitary council spanning southern Cumbria and the north of the county.
Lancaster City Council leader Dr Erica Lewis has been criticised for her decision to approve further consultation talks, with costs rising to a maximum of £2million, in order to get the ball rolling on plans to create a new council around Morecambe Bay.
Dr Lewis approved the award of the local government reorganisation framework contract to PA Consulting on Monday (April 12), with the call-in process waived by a scrutiny committee chair to the decision being classed as ‘urgent’.
It came just days after Lancashire County Council voted against backing the venture which would see the Lancaster council area break away from Lancashire and join Barrow and South Lakeland boroughs in a new authority encompassing Morecambe Bay.
Councillor Charlie Edwards, who represents the South Morecambe Ward for Lancashire County Council, branded the move a “disgrace” referencing the £2m mentioned in the contract which he believes could be put to better use somewhere else.
“Lancashire County Council say they will not be able to support this because the proposal does not meet the government criteria,” Mr Edwards told LancsLive.
“The fact that Lancaster City Council will be spending more tax payers money on consultations on something that we already know won’t happen instead of the vital services that will make a difference to people’s lives in an absolute disgrace.
“This isn’t about what is best for the people of Morecambe and Lancaster; this is about power and what is best for councillors.
“I don’t want to know about what is best for councillors; I want to know what is best for the people.”
Dr Lewis, who has spearheaded The Bay authority plans, was quick to rebuke Mr Edwards.
She claimed that plans for a new unitary around Morecambe Bay were by no means down and out as-a-result of the county council bid.
The council leader, who also sits as a county councillor, told LancsLive that the proposal for the new unitary still had a chance of going ahead and denounced Mr Edward’s claims.
She said: “Lancashire County Council is not the only voice in this debate.
“The government set its test covering all manner of public services for the new authority and we believe that we met those tests.
“We believe that we have demonstrated that we have public support, with a lot of responses coming into the consultation in support of The Bay.
“We still think that we have a good argument to make here. The argument for The Bay is strong.
“If you speak to people you realise that The Bay has a historic community; there are family ties, work and education across The Bay.”
In response to Mr Edward’s anger at the £2m ceiling for the consultation, Dr Lewis pointed out that local authority reform was inevitable.
Whether the plans concern The Bay or another unitary authority proposal, the costs will be large and will have to be made, says the council leader.
Dr Lewis said: “Local government reorganisation won’t be any less expensive whether it concerns The Bay proposal or another proposal.
“If the government are not going to provide additional resources for this practise then we have to do it.
“The government wants local government reorganisation to happen, if we didn’t invest funds in The Bay plan we would have to invest it somewhere else anyway.”
This is not the first time Dr Lewis and Mr Edwards have butted heads regarding The Bay authority.
Mr Edwards had some choice words when county councillors voted against supporting the proposal last week.
The Morecambe South representative claimed that The Bay plans had been “written on the back of a fag packet.”
Dr Lewis took to Twitter after the meeting, outing Mr Edwards, as-well-as Councillor Andrew Gardiner, for voting against The Bay plans.
Consultation for the local government reorganisation will end on April 19.