Gainsborough

Jeff Summers: Scrapped devolution deal would have been better than proposed unitary authority

Last year the 10 councils of Lincolnshire attempted to get a devolution deal for the county. This was an offer from government to devolve powers from centre, to local areas with funding to allow local people to have a greater say in their future.

The main aspects of our bid were economic development, housing, health and social care, infrastructure, skills and further education. All critical components for a growing economy.

The deal consisted of £15 million per year for the next 30 years. All we had to do was employ a mayor!

Sadly, two of the 10 councils voted against the proposal, therefore the bid failed, leaving eight very annoyed and frustrated councils asking what two years’ work had been for.

The government are not considering any further bids until they have fully established the agreements already made. If any further devolvement of governance occurs in the future it may be very different to this time around.

Approximately six weeks after the failed bid we began to see on Twitter by two senior cabinet county councillors suggesting we should have one single unitary authority for Lincolnshire. Next to appear on all forms of media was the leader of Lincolnshire County Council advocating the same.

A few days later they realised one unitary was not possible so they opted for two, now it’s two or three.

The justification for the proposal of a single unitary authority was the saving of £130 million over five years.

Why would you propose such a scheme which would cost millions of pounds to establish, freeze all regenerative activity for two years, create mass redundancies across the county whilst cutting services to communities?

How could this make sense after refusing £450 million in the devo deal two months ago, which was new money to the county?

A referendum to be held at the same time as county council elections was the next proposal.

District councils run elections in the county and immediately asked the question is it legal. Districts took legal advice from a QC who pointed out 12 reasons why we should not do it.

Apart from the legalities, a county council election has to be conducted in a separate room with different staff. Therefore, there was the small item of £500,000 extra cost.

The last proposal is to hold a poll in the Autumn.

If such a poll takes place, then a coherent transfer of information to the electorate must take place. Not a sham as was the case with devolution.

I also feel it would be nice to have meaningful constructive dialogue with Lincolnshire County Council, rather than learning about their thoughts through social media which was the case with the referendum.

For the time being my council (West Lindsey) will be pursuing further opportunities of sharing systems, services and costs with our neighbouring partners.

Strengthening our relationships and continuing to develop structures which we feel will deliver the inward investment the county so urgently needs.