Gainsborough

Sir Edward Leigh: Government needs to reconsider requirement for directly elected mayor

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October has been an important month for the county. Councils from the Humber to the Wash have been voting on the important issue of devolution, a plan for central government to devolve some of Whitehall’s power to a directly elected mayor and a combined authority, consisting of the leaders of the 10 councils involved, in our area.

Local councils across Greater Lincolnshire (being the seven districts contained within and including Lincolnshire County Council, plus the two unitary authorities on the south bank of the Humber) have been having their say on the issue.

Local MPs from across the area have voiced their views as well, often in differing directions. It is an issue that has cut across party politics like none other, which I can think of, in recent years.

I think that getting decisions made locally can only be good for Lincolnshire.

However, I like many local people and councillors, have questioned and opposed the introduction of the mayoral model, being insisted upon by government.

Adding another layer of local government doesn’t seem right; especially when we have parish and town councillors, district councillors, county councillors, police and crime commissioners and members of Parliament.

Given the modest population of the Greater Lincolnshire area it seems unnecessary, when compared with the size of other areas and deals that are or have been agreed.

I have been critical of this move towards a regional local government that would reduce the accountability for citizens; much better to keep the focus of local people on their local representatives, in my opinion.

I was really pleased that Labour’s Melanie Onn MP (Great Grimsby) signed a joint letter with me calling for an alternative structure which wouldn’t need a directly elected mayor, but would have an independent chairperson.

It was pleasing to see strong opposition to the proposals at both Lincolnshire County Council and South Kesteven District Council following the publication of the letter.

Whilst still theoretically possible for the deal to move forward, it would be a brave council leader who ignored the majority views of their full council meetings.

Hopefully this means that the current deal can be looked at again and government will become more flexible on the matter of a directly elected mayor.

I am sure most people would agree that we want the powers locally. We just don’t want another layer of local government and the bureaucracy that comes with it.

On Monday the other week, I raised an equally important matter with the Prime Minister about Brexit. I wanted to know if, having adopted all EU laws into British law, when we finally leave the EU, whether our objective would be to have a free trade agreement, that is overwhelmingly in the interest of both the British and the European Union, and particularly the poorest nations of the world, as we work for a world of free trade and prosperity.

The Prime Minister was kind enough to agree. After the near collapse of the Canada-EU trade deal, because of the intransigence of Wallonia – a small administrative unit of Belgium – I have to admit that it underlines for me the potential of Britain to prosper free from the rules of the European Union.

I have also been urging local people to make sure they are ready for winter. There are a number of simple steps that everyone should take to make sure they are keeping their energy bills down and themselves together with their home warm this winter.

Individuals may be entitled to extra support from the government and their energy supplier if they meet certain criteria.

Last year more than 700,000 British Gas customers, for example, in the UK received the ‘Warm Home Discount’ – a one off discount of £140 on the electricity bill.

So it can be very worthwhile to contact your energy supplier and see if you are on the best tariff or if your circumstance might allow for support to make you home more energy efficient.

I have also been pleased to hear that following listening to local residents and the town council in Market Rasen, together with a successful lobbying campaign by local Conservative councillors for Market Rasen that West Lindsey District Council will not be implementing the proposed car parking charges this year – some good news for the high street, market traders and businesses of Market Rasen in the run-up to Christmas.

Finally, my colleagues in the House have kindly elected me to the new International Trade select committee, which will examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the new Department for International Trade.

We will start meeting in the coming weeks.