John Marriott: Councillors lacked vision in rejecting Greater Lincolnshire devolution deal

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It looks like the attempt to devolve more power to the Greater Lincolnshire area from the Humber to the Wash is now dead in the water, following the decision of the Lincolnshire County Council and the South Kesteven District Council to reject the offer from the government in October.

Although very much devolution ‘lite’, the offer from the government would appear to be all that there is available to rural areas at the moment. It was a start, no more and no less and it had clear flaws; but it could have opened the door for much, much more later.

The offer was for around £15 million per annum initially until 2020, paid to the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership (GLLEP) comprising all first and second tier councils from the Humber to the Wash, together with local business partners.

Included in the package was more control over highways matters and the opportunity for increased borrowing. It was hardly a fortune; but it would have made a small start in reversing the trend towards centralisation which has proved to be the leitmotif of politics both local and national over the past one hundred years or so in England if not more recently in the rest of the United Kingdom.

The reluctance of two of the 10 councils involved to support the move was based largely on their aversion to the idea of an elected mayor, which I indeed share and which was unfortunately a sine qua non in this case.

The problem was that many of those councillors rejecting the offer based their decision largely on the findings of a public consultation that elicited responses from barely 1% of the local population.

To say that “the people of Lincolnshire have spoken” as many did to justify their position shows a weird grasp of representative democracy. Edmund Burke said over 200 years ago that MPs were ‘representatives’ not ‘delegates’.

Are local councillors so different? Sometimes you need to have the courage of your convictions. You need to have vision, which is sadly sometimes lacking in many of your fellow citizens, whose interest in the direction of travel of local government, as witnessed by their responses to the consultation, would appear to be minimal at best.

Where do we go from here? Who knows? If only the idea of the elected mayor, which might make sense in places like Greater Manchester, could be dropped, we might see a way forward.

As a member of the Lincolnshire County Council, whose rejection clearly helped tip the balance, I was prepared to go ahead regardless.

However, it wasn’t the first time in my political life that I ended up with the minority.

It makes me wonder whether local government, or at least many of its elected representatives, possesses the vision and the willingness to make tough decisions, to take on more powers.

Indeed, are some of these councillors incapable of seeing the bigger picture?

It’s a real shame that this first, albeit feeble, attempt to claw back powers from Whitehall has failed its first test around here.

So it looks as if urban areas like Manchester and Sheffield will get a head start, whilst those of us in rural areas will continue to be the poor relations.

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