Deadlock on ‘all or nothing’ devolution for Lincolnshire

DEVOLUTION DEADLOCK: Coun Martin Hill, Leader of Lincolnshire County Council.
DEVOLUTION DEADLOCK: Coun Martin Hill, Leader of Lincolnshire County Council.

A £15 million-a-year deal giving Lincolnshire greater powers over housing, transportand flood management is hanging by a thread.

With just four days left before he is due to decide whether plans for a Greater Lincolnshire Combined Authority are acceptable, the Leader of Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) has admitted that a deal is “some way short”.

All ten councils that originally signed up to the consultation proposals have to agree, otherwise the deal can’t go ahead

Coun Martin Hill, Leader of Lincolnshire County Council

Coun Martin Hill is due to write to Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid on Monday with a final decision on plans for ten councils across Greater Lincolnshire to work together, with a £450 million budget over 30 years.

But after LCC members rejected the deal four weeks ago, Coun Hill said: “All ten councils that originally signed up to the consultation proposals have to agree, otherwise the deal can’t go ahead.

“The LCC vote wasn’t a totally surprise as it’s always been the case that a directly-elected mayor would cause issues.

“Also, the devolution deal isn’t quite as wholesome as we were hoping but if we want substantial devolution, we’d have to accept a directly-elected mayor.”

Eight councils, including South Holland District Council, voted for the deal after a six-week public consultation during the summer.

From nearly 4,500 responses, 46.7 per cent supported a mayoral combined authority and 48.6 per cent were against it.

Coun Hill said: “The issue is, in a sense, about powers that can be devolved from central government to local areas.

“People won’t notice anything on their streets the next day, but there are longer term things like skills and highways projects which could come down to the new authority, with some money available to be spread across Greater Lincolnshire.

“This country is far too centralised and we think there are more that could be done at least as well locally, if not better, than by civil servants sitting in offices at Whitehall.”

The driving force behind Greater Lincolnshire devoluion has been supporters’ claims that some public services can be delivered better by county authorities than central government.

At a meeting where South Holland District Council voted for the deal three weeks ago, council leader Gary Porter said: “This deal will give us greater control over public service we don’t currently deal with and we’ll get to keep the money inside of Lincolnshire where it would be easier to deal with ten councils, rather than deal with the Government.

“The whole point of doing this is to bring the civic county of Lincolnshire back as one county for functions currently administered by central government.

“All the other places that have got a deal have been asked to work with councils that aren’t natural allies.

“But Lincolnshire is what it is and the two councils, North East Lincolnshire and North Lincolnshire, are part of the county of Lincolnshire.

“It’s about bringing central government functions closer to the people of Lincolnshire and that’s the bit that makes the mayor idea attractive.”

But one LCC member who voted down the deal, Coun Susan Wray for Donington Rural, said: “I voted No because, while the deal may look good to many, there is no such thing as a free meal.

“I believe in, and support, the principle of a Combined Authority for Greater Lincolnshire, with finance and responsibility being more accountable and closer to the area, along with the people it supports.

“However, NOT with strings attached like an ‘enforced mayoral system’, especially if they were based in Scunthorpe for example.

“Clearly Lincolnshire cannot function with yet another layer of governance, but no indication has yet been made as to which level will be surplus to requirements.”

Any hope the eight councils who voted for the deal had of “going it alone” on devolution appeared to have been dashed by the Communities Secretary at Westminster last week.

During a meeting of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee last Tuesday, Mr Javid “In every case, councils had a consultation in making a final decision and that is the case in the Greater Lincolnshire deal.

“Even if one of the ten constituent members of the proposed combined authority rejects the deal then it will end the entire deal because the consultation was done on that basis.

“To try and continue with a new deal, it would require the process to start again.”

Coun Hill added: “The Government is reasonably ready to say this is the final offer available and we’ll have to work together to make the best of where we are at the moment.

“But the devolution deal is some way short of what the purists want.

“There have been some small changes on governance issues and we’re having talks at the council council before writing to the Government later this week.

“But the money offered by the Government will not be coming this way.”

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Council says ‘No Deal’ as £450 million offer stalls