Councils' criticism of ‘rushed through’ devolution process

Lincolnshire district council leaders have accused those behind major devolution plans of rushing through the process and publishing “incomplete” documents.

The seven district council leaders – including East and West Lindsey – criticised a deal which was discussed in a series of meetings on Friday, and said they do not believe the papers being considered were complete or offered the best deal for Lincolnshire residents.

The Greater Lincolnshire Joint Strategic Oversight Committee, attended by leaders from Lincolnshire County Council, North Lincolnshire Council and North East Lincolnshire Council, voted to seek a deal “at the earliest opportunity” on Friday.

The upper tier leaders also wrote to the Secretary of State Simon Clarke telling him ‘we have agreed in principle the substance of our bid’ and ‘we will be ready’ to submit in the next round.

District council leaders said that while productive discussions had taken place, current proposals “did not reflect the best deal for residents”.

A joint statement from district council leaders said: “Although all ten councils agree that devolution is a good thing for the county, the process cannot be rushed.

“We have challenged the timing of releasing the papers, which are not the finished article and therefore we cannot seek to adopt them.

“We did not expect these documents to be published at this time as they are incomplete.

“None of us want to miss out on an opportunity for devolution and the extra powers and money this could bring to the area.

“However, we have a responsibility to work collaboratively to get the best deal appropriate for our strategic geographies.”

Coun Martin Hill, Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, said he was “genuinely surprised” by the statement from the district councils and said all ten councils had agreed to support the devolution bid “if necessary with a mayor” with a final bid by the end of 2022.

He said the authorities had “all been collectively working on [the bid] for months and even years.

“There have been no substantive objections made by Lincolnshire district councils to date,” he said, “The government has made it clear that devolution is their vehicle for extra investment in local areas and there is a risk that unless we move forward at pace, our county will lose out.

“We have done substantial business engagement through the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), with Lincolnshire businesses being strongly in favour of us seeking devolution, and keeping them informed of developments. We fully intend to keep our partners engaged with the process.”

He said the meeting on Friday had included the LEP chairman: “We do not agree with the district councils that draft proposals should be kept secret from the public and business, which would be contrary to the principles of openness and transparency.

“We fully recognise that these documents are a work in progress and will continue to refine these in a collaborative way to ensure the best possible deal for Lincolnshire.

“Unfortunately, Greater Lincolnshire is not in the current bidding round of devolution proposals but our three councils have been given the responsibility by government to deliver a bid for next year, and will do so for the benefit of the residents who we represent.”