Unitary status plans ‘not welcomed’ by Government

Wyre Civic Centre.
Wyre Civic Centre.

Proposals to apply for unitary status for Wyre Council appear to have been dealt a blow after a leading minister said it was not a good time for local councils to attempt such moves.

Coun Peter Gibson, the leader of Conservative-dominated Wyre, believes there will be major advantages if Wyre were to break away from the larger Lancashire County Council.

But Wyre’s Labour group are not in favour of the plan, and now the Department of Communities and Local Government suggests proposals to reorganise local government are ill-advised in the current economic climate.

Parliamentary under 
secretary of state and Conservative MP Kris Hopkins said of Chorley’s plans to form a unitary authority: “Given the precarious state of public 
finances the Government is of the view that now is not the time to undertake resource-intensive and disruptive restructuring of local government.

“We believe that it is just not sensible to disrupt and distract local government .

“Frankly we do not believe that the solution to the problems of local government lies in unitary restructuring at this present time.

“Any such transition to unitary status would require all the affected councils to agree; in the circumstances I would suggest that, given the impact such a change might have on Lancashire County Council, their views would be an important consideration in any proposals put to the Secretary of State.”

However, he added the government would not stand in the way if any council attempted such a move.

Coun Lorraine Beavers, a Fleetwood Labour councillor at borough and county level, said: “Coun Gibson has failed to secure the support of his own party. His government has described his proposals as a waste of public resources that threaten to distract from the work he should be doing to support local residents in these extremely difficult times for local authorities and the communities we 

She said Chorley Council, which also hopes to go unitary, has forecast costs of more than £250,000 to hold such a referendum and that Wyre would face similar costs.

She added: “Coun Gibson is willing to commit significant public resources to a political cause destined to fail whilst he point blank refuses to support the reintroduction of subsidised tram travel for elderly and disabled residents in Fleetwood and Cleveleys, at around a fifth of the cost.”

Coun Gibson, unavailable for comment, has argued the “dead hand” of County Hall is inefficient and is holding Wyre back.