Jeff Summers, Leader of West Lindsey District Council, has given his views on plans for a unitary authority for Lincolnshire.
Councillor Summers said: “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 £15m per year for the next 30 years, with £450m coming to the county over the first five years. All we had to do was employ a Mayor!
“Sadly, two of the ten councils voted against the proposal, therefore the bid failed, leaving eight very annoyed and frustrated councils asking what had two year’s work 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.”
He continued: “Approximately six weeks after the failed bid we began to see tweets in the twitter house by two senior cabinet county councillors suggesting we should have one single Unitary authority for Lincolnshire - removing from the county all district and town councils.
“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 authority 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 £130m 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 £450m in the devolution 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 twelve 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. Lincolnshire is a very large area! The last proposal was 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 LCC, 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.”
• For background on the debate over a unitary authority for Lincolnshire, click here.
• Visit our website for comment and reaction from Lincolnshire’s district councils regarding the unitary authority proposals.