Gainsborough

Sir Edward Leigh: Politics should be about the common good

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On Wednesday last week the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. I fully supported the bill.

Brexit remains the most important issue that people often raise with me. Whilst we may not know the precise details of what Brexit will look like, we do know what our destination is, and the determined approach of the Prime Minister and Conservative government to make a success of it.

At a time when many feel that uncertainty is on the march I feel quietly confident that on big issues we can have confidence.

The NHS is an area dear to the hearts of everyone. I have been criticised heavily on social media by many on the left for daring to ask about how we can make sure that people get the care they need when they need it.

So that we do not end up with a system unable to cope with the modern world, unable to be funded in the future and where people who come to the end of their lives without dignity, alone and abandoned.

It is surely right that we make sure that the most vulnerable in society have the support they need to live their lives as they wish, and doggedly sticking to the systems of the past might not produce the best results.

If politicians like myself are cowed into not discussing the alternatives then we abrogate our responsibilities in the worst possible way and for the worst possible reasons.

Once again the debate about how we should be governed locally has returned.

This time as a surprise exercise from county council leader, Councillor Martin Hill who, having seen the devolution deal fall, has decided he wants to expend half a million pounds, or potentially more, on a plebiscite – that wouldn’t even be binding.

Other local authorities, like the excellent West Lindsey District Council, have tightened their belts, where they have had to, implemented change where necessary and looked at how they can deliver services more efficiently and effectively.

It is not clear that the same zeal has suffused the coalition administration at Lincolnshire County Council.

I recognise that the hand dealt to local authorities – to do their part to balance the nation’s books after 13 disastrous years of Labour rule – is not an easy one.

But the county council seems to have retreated to a comfort zone of managed decline; in contrast to the district council which has embraced a revolution to do things differently.

West Lindsey remains the only district in Lincolnshire where residents don’t pay for their garden waste wheelie bin to be collected.

West Lindsey today has almost exactly the same number of full time equivalent staff as it did a decade ago: But these are not people doing the same jobs as before; they are doing different jobs, delivering the Conservative administration’s vision of an increasingly entrepreneurial and commercialised council.

The same cannot be said for Lincolnshire.

Where has the bold vision been at County Hall? Where has been the implementation of new ideas?

How can people be expected to grapple with the issues surrounding changing from the current system of district councils and the county council to an unspecified number of unitary authorities in the few weeks from the last week of February to the first week of May?

How will county councillors look their electorates in the eye and explain that they have flushed half a million pounds away when adult social care could have benefitted from the money?

I would urge county councillors to think long and hard about the decision that is being asked of them.

Surely it would be better for all local authorities to work together, as they did so well whilst negotiating the devolution deal for Greater Lincolnshire, and consider what change, if any, would be in the best interests of the county?

Then local residents can be consulted on an actual plan, weigh up the merits of a proposal against the current system and make an informed choice.

I feel that it is the responsibility of those elected to public office to work for the common good.

Whether that is discussing unpopular ideas to test that what we are doing is the right approach, or finding solutions to the challenges we faces.