Lincolnshire

John Marriott: Where now for devolution in Greater Lincolnshire?

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As Mr Spock might have said to Captain Kirk; “It’s devolution, Jim, but not as we know it”. He would probably have been right.

At £15 million per year at least until 2020, with a few new powers thrown in and with a new tier of bureaucracy in the form of an ‘elected mayor’ to oversee the enterprise, the much vaunted Greater Lincolnshire devolution deal is hardly revolutionary at this stage.

However, that really is all there is on offer around here from a government whose predecessors over the past 80 years at least have done their best to emasculate a system of governance at local level which gave the ordinary citizens of England decent housing, clean water, electricity and gas, education, and much, much more.

It’s no wonder that so few people bother to vote in local elections, as they now see so little relevance in their daily lives.

As someone who believes in a federal United Kingdom, and wants to see the regions of England eventually with the powers enjoyed by Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, I supported the Northern Powerhouse ‘offer’ from central government as being a first move in England towards the establishment of that goal.

As Mao famously said, a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step; and, indeed, if the offer had been accepted, that journey could have still taken some time.

I could even have lived (just) with an elected mayor to get a foot in the door to repatriate some of the powers taken away from local government over many years.

Also, isn’t it about time that we in rural areas got a piece of the action as well?

Unfortunately, my colleagues on Lincolnshire County Council have, by their rejection of the offer, effectively scuppered any movement in that direction for a mixed rural and urban area like Greater Lincolnshire possibly for a very long time.

Regardless of what the other nine councils have decided, without the county council on board, the chances of progress, especially if the mayor question is the sticking point, are slim indeed.

Many of the doubters at the extraordinary county council meeting last Thursday cited the view that “the people of Lincolnshire have spoken”.

Well, if you consider the views of around 1% of the Greater Lincolnshire population following a consultation process to be a mandate, you may have a point. I don’t.

What the result showed was, besides a victory of parochialism over vision, just how few people seemed to be bothered either way.

Interestingly, nearly half the county councillors attending also sit on district councils.

I know of at least one who voted against after freely admitting in private that she had already voted for at her district council meeting.

I wonder how many more so called dual hatted members did the same? The free vote revealed supporters and opponents in the Tory, Labour and Lib Dem Groups. Only UKIP seemed solidly against. As for the Independents, most of them voted against as well. You can read into that what you wish.

So, what now? Well, if I were Andrew Percy MP, the minister in charge, I would be prepared to be flexible.

Having received a virtual ‘take it or leave it’ letter from him prior to last week’s meeting, I am not optimistic.

A way round an elected mayor, whose popularity in terms of voter support could rival that of the Police and Crime Commissioner, might be to allow a ‘leader’ to emerge from amongst the leaders of the 10 Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership councils and/or the business community, which we local politicians tend to forget in the equation.

You may say that’s too many councils and you would be right. I reckon that, if the GLLEP does take off, besides the two unitary councils south of the Humber, we could see a new structure emerging pretty quickly to replace the present county/district Structure in the rest of the area.

We shall have to wait and see…..