A disappointed Lincolnshire County Council leader Martin Hill admitted that prospects of a devolution settlement for the region now appear extremely unlikely after county councillors voted down the deal put forward by government.
As reported earlier, 43 councillors voted against the proposed devolution deal at a meeting on Thursday, October 20, with 17 voting in favour and five abstentions.
Many councillors expressed their anger at the plans for an elected mayor, a perceived failure of government to listen to their concerns, and fears of two extra layers of local government bureaucracy.
The deal on offer would create a new combined authority, with a directly elected mayor.
The new authority would receive £15 million a year, for the next 30 years, for infrastructure projects.
While the deal remains alive as ultimate responsibility for Lincolnshire County Council’s decision rests with the leader, Councillor Martin Hill said that it would “take a lot” to overturn the vote.
He told Lincolnshire Reporter: “All 10 councils have to agree to the deal, including of course the county council. My final decision hasn’t been made yet.
“I won’t be signing or not signing the deal until later next month so technically it’s still alive but it would take a lot to overturn what was a clear, strong view from councillors.
If the government turned around and said we didn’t need the directly elected mayor I think that would make a massive difference.
“I didn’t want anyone in the chamber to feel misled. The idea that we could not have a directly elected mayor seems pretty remote.
“Further discussions with the other nine local authority leaders and the chair of the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership to see the way forward and how we can still keep something going.
“We have been very keen on this and the county council has been the main driver of devolution. It’s a shame that it looks like it’s probably going to come to an end.
The ship is sinking but it hasn’t sunk yet so we’ll have to see what develops, but it’s difficult to see how it can survive the vote today.
Disappointing to hear
Other councils and councillors have reacted with disappointment to the vote.
Liz Redfern, leader of North Lincolnshire Council and political spokesperson for governance in the Greater Lincolnshire devolution proposals, was one of the key individuals pushing for a transfer of powers to the region.
She said: “We have been working closely with all councils to create a Greater Lincolnshire Authority – it is disappointing to hear that Lincolnshire County Council voted against the proposals.
North Lincolnshire Council was the first authority to vote in support of the proposals that would bring greater powers and more money to the area.
“It is too early to say what will happen now as we await further clarification. We will know more once the remaining two district councils have voted next week.”
North Kesteven District Council leader Marion Brighton described the vote as “a major setback”.
She said: “I am naturally deeply disappointed that all we have sought to achieve has suffered a major setback.
“The hope was to attract and direct, through partnership of all 10 Greater Lincolnshire councils and other agencies, investments of more than £450m to stimulate homes, jobs, infrastructure and skills locally.
It has always been my concern that if we do not take this golden opportunity now any delays would put us at the back of the queue with fewer resources available to us.
“I look forward to continuing discussions with those who are committed and hope we can unite as we continue to seek the best outcome we can achieve.”
Government must now listen
Someone in better spirits about the vote was Gainsborough MP Sir Edward Leigh, an outspoken critic of the proposed devolution deal.
He said: “People want to be represented by people who have a stake in their local communities, not remote abstract governance constructs.
“I hope that today’s vote will lead to government recognising the need to tailor deals to the specific needs of different areas.
A directly elected mayor for Bristol, Manchester or the West Midlands might suit those areas, but it is not right for Lincolnshire.
“I hope we can negotiate to get the devolved powers, without having the mayor.”