Massive olans for a new unitary authority across northern Lancashire and southern Cumbria could go ahead despite the lack of support from Lancashire County Council.
The Morecambe Bay authority proposal could be in motion, with Lancaster City Council joining Barrow and South Lakeland borough councils, after council leader Dr Erica Lewis agreed to hand over a contract for the proposal, with a £2m ceiling, to PA Consulting.
Her decision, which comes mere days after Lancashire County Council voted against backing the proposal, will not be discussed at cabinet tonight (April 13) as Dr Lewis waived the call-in process.
Councillors voted by a majority last Friday to ask that government ministers only consider the proposal for a new council - known as The Bay - if they explore local authority reorganisation for the whole of Lancashire at the same time.
A document relating to Dr Lewis' decision was published to the Lancaster City Council website on Monday.
It said: "To approve the award of the Local Government Reorganisation framework contract to PA Consulting, with an overall ceiling of £2m up until April 2025, subject to ongoing value for money and quality assurance for individual work packages.
"Reasons for the decision: Further development of the Bay proposal for Local Government Reorganisation will require a level of resource, experience and expertise beyond that which exists within the council’s workforce.
"A framework for services has been developed and procured collaboratively between the three Bay councils to provide transparency, security and flexibility to secure supply of services.
"The ceiling for the framework is £2m and the duration is until April 2025.
"Individual schedules of works will be delivered within the framework arrangements and will be subject to quality assurance and value for money in procuring this support from within existing budget provision.
"Cabinet Portfolio Holder authorisation is required in order to make an award of contract to the successful tenderer."
Plans to combine Lancaster City Council, Barrow Borough Council and South Lakeland District Council first surfaced late in November 2020.
All three councils put forward a proposal to create a brand new unitary authority, which councillors claimed would improve and centralise services for the existing boroughs.
Those behind the plans stated that the new council would quash the issue of remote authority for areas like Lancaster and Morecambe, which are almost 30 miles away from the main county council offices in Preston.
Public consultations held by Lancaster City Council suggested that the idea was popular after 93 per cent of the 2,800 residents surveyed said that they preferred The Bay proposal to other options, according to Dr Lewis.
However, when the proposal was presented at Lancashire County Council hall last week it was not supported by the Conservative-led council.
Councillors voted by a majority to ask that ministers only consider the proposal for a new unitary council if they were to also explore local authority reorganisation for the whole of Lancashire at the same time.
Three days later, Dr Lewis made the decision to plough more funds into consultation for The Bay plans.
A decision of this kind would usually be scrutinised by cabinet or overview scrutiny committees.
But Dr Lewis waived this process (known as the "call-in process") because the decision was considered to be urgent.
A decision is considered to be urgent if any delay likely to be caused by the call-in process would seriously prejudice council interests or the public interest.
This was approved by councillor Tricia Heath who chairs the Lancaster City Council scrutiny committee.