Planning for new combined authority branded ‘shambolic’ in High Peak

Cllr Caitlin Bisknell and, below, Cllr Tony Ashton.
Cllr Caitlin Bisknell and, below, Cllr Tony Ashton.

High Peak Conservatives have branded Labour’s organisational skills as “completely shambolic” after set-backs in talks over Derbyshire’s home-rule bid.

In December, the Advertiser reported that plans were afoot to unite Derbyshire’s ten councils – unlocking power and “hundreds of millions” of pounds from Westminster.

Councillor Tony Ashton.

Councillor Tony Ashton.

At the time, Leader of Derbyshire County Council, Cllr Anne Western, said it was an “historic and exciting” development which would give the county a “stronger voice” on the national stage.

But the county council and High Peak Borough Council – both Labour – have been criticised by Leader of High Peak Conservatives, Cllr Tony Ashton, after two meetings to discuss the plans were cancelled.

Cllr Ashton said a borough council meeting on January 20 was cancelled because Derbyshire County Council could not carry out a consultation process in time.

Now, Cllr Ashton says a meeting scheduled for February 6 has also been cancelled because the county council do not have “sufficient time to provide the results of the consultation”.

Cllr Ashton said: “The organisation of this has been, quite frankly, completely shambolic.

“So I’m calling on the leader of High Peak Borough Council, Caitlin Bisknell, to stop messing about, start actually doing her job, and get the two Labour-controlled authorities working together properly on this, so that councillors can fully scrutinise what is a significant proposal for residents.”

But Cllr Bisknell has been quick to rebuff the criticisms, saying both authorities have “worked hard” to ensure High Peak residents, businesses and councillors have been consulted.

She added that all councillors were sent information about the proposal and were also invited to a seminar to outline the proposals last November.

Cllr Bisknell said: “It is frustrating for all councillors, myself included, that the date of the council meeting has been changed.

“However, Cllr Ashton can’t have it both ways – either he wants councillors to have all the relevant information before a formal decision is taken or he doesn’t.”

Of the ten councils involved in the initiative, seven are Labour-led – Derby City, Derbyshire County, Amber Valley, Bolsover, Chesterfield, High Peak and North East – and three are Conservative-led – Erewash, South Derbyshire and Derbyshire Dales.

Subject to Government approval and all councils formally signing up – both considered to be a formality – Derbyshire is set to become the UK’s first combined authority in a non-metropolitan area.

As well as unlocking huge sums of money, decisions currently made in Whitehall will be devolved to the group of councils.