Free swimming, pothole-filling and a "Lancashire Powerhouse": Labour's county election pitch

The Labour Party has pledged to create a “Lancashire Powerhouse” if it takes control of the county council in the forthcoming local elections – amid a claim that the area is being left behind by its North West neighbours.

Tuesday, 9th March 2021, 1:27 am

The current opposition group at County Hall has launched its manifesto ahead of the poll on 6th May, with a pitch to voters that it will build on Lancashire’s manufacturing heritage to put the region at the forefront of the industries of the future.

The party has promised to demand a “fair share” of government investment and Lancashire Labour group leader Azhar Ali said that the county needed a strong voice to ensure that it is not crowded out within the government’s own “Northern Powerhouse” concept.

“Ever since George Osborne came up with the idea, it has basically been about the big cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds.

Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali has set out his party's pledges in an attempt to take control at County Hall in May

“And in the budget just last week, the government couldn’t even come up with the money for the Eden Project North [in Morecambe] – so Lancashire was kicked in the teeth again in spite of all the rhetoric.

“Under my leadership at County Hall, we will make sure we safeguard our manufacturing jobs. We have got world class engineers and their skills could be harnessed into green technologies to make Lancashire the green capital of England.

“Yes, the government has recently given money to some parts of Lancashire [Preston and Leyland received £46m between them in the Towns Fund announced in the budget] – but it’s an insult to the intelligence of people when they have previously taken £600m [out of the county council’s budget].

“We must make sure we fight for Lancashire so that we can turn it into a powerhouse rather than a workhouse,” said County Cllr Ali.

He added that he would aim to secure government backing to get a Lancashire combined authority “up and running within 12 months” as part of a devolution deal for the county – even though that has been a repeatedly-thwarted process dating back almost five years.

Amongst the specific promises in the 14-page manifesto is an offer of free swimming for all under-16’s during the school holidays and, all year round, for the over-50s, the disabled and those referred via social prescribing – a process whereby specialist link workers direct people to non-clinical services that could help improve their lives.

Social prescribing would also provide a route to 12 months’ membership of local authority sports facilities for disabled residents and secondary school pupils. That offer would also be extended to all care workers and carers.

The Labour Party says it would invest £20m over four years in road repairs in Lancashire. Pressed on whether that would be over and above the extra £10m already added to the budget by the ruling Conservative group just last month, County Cllr Ali said it would.

In a sign that the party is intending to target the rural parts of Lancashire that it will need to win over if it is to secure a victory in May, the manifesto acknowledges that “urban solutions” are not always a good fit for the problems faced by countryside residents. The Labour leader said that they needed short-term support to overcome the effects of Brexit, in the form of grants for green projects and diversification.

County Cllr Ali also turned his attention to life after the pandemic, adding that it was vital that support was provided to the voluntary organisations on which all corners of the county have come to depend during the Covid crisis.

“We’ll have a pot of money that we’ll put aside to help get match funding for those groups, as many of them are on the brink of collapse.

“Without them and our food banks, we would have been in a very difficult situation during the pandemic, especially in deprived areas.

“Our elderly and others have really been hit hard by social isolation during the pandemic and it’s vital that we support them to get back involved in the community.”