Petition calls on people to oppose Mayor of Lincolnshire devolution deal

The Leader of Lincolnshire Independents has launched a petition on calling for a block on plans for a new tax-raising Mayor for Lincolnshire as part of a new devolved powers deal for the county.
Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, Coun Martin Hill at the public information event in Sleaford.Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, Coun Martin Hill at the public information event in Sleaford.
Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, Coun Martin Hill at the public information event in Sleaford.

County and North Kesteven District Councillor Marianne Overton has so far raised 78 signatures on the electronic petition website since launching it a week ago.

Lincolnshire County Council, along with North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire Council have all approved the deal, which promises to deliver £24 million annually to the region for 30 years via a Mayoral Investment Fund from the government, offering greater devolved powers and freedom to spend on key development, infrastructure, jobs and skill projects.

Other key aspects of the proposal include the election of a mayor in 2025, a one-off capital investment of £28.4 million, and the devolution of the adult education budget control from 2026.

Coun Marianne Overton has launched a petition.Coun Marianne Overton has launched a petition.
Coun Marianne Overton has launched a petition.

However a number of the district councils, including South Kesteven, Boston and Lincoln have expressed reservations or opposition to the plans in their current form.

1.1m people of ten Council areas in "Greater Lincolnshire", would have to pay for an additional layer of costly bureaucracy. And we get a smaller voice as "the deal" puts power in very few hands. The money expected is little or no more than we already get and not focussed on our local needs.

Coun Overton’s petition states: “We the undersigned, say 'no' to a Mayor and 'no' to this Greater Lincolnshire "Devo Deal" 2023.”

She says the money should instead go to the existing councils as they are.

Coun Overton states: “In 2016, many of us spoke in council to abolish the idea of a Mayor for this huge and disparate land, taking in ten big council areas. The public were against a Mayor and the County Council voted against. We were told that would mean no money, but that was not true. The County Council currently spends £360m on improving roads, based on good business plans, nothing to do with a Mayor!

"Do we want transport decisions to be run by our councillors who represent us locally or a new Mayor and just a handful of people, funded directly from Central Government?

She claimed the new combined authority with a Mayor adds unnecessary bureaucracy and costs, with initial setup, estimated at £2m, audit, scrutiny, committees, all with ongoing tax increases on top of current layers of local Government, plus more on your council tax bill, and on business rates, should they choose to raise it.

She said the offered funds are substantial, but not when compared to current spending. “On the County Council alone, we invest £1.1bn every year and are currently spending £360m on road developments. Having a mayor means a similar or smaller sum, but depreciating over the next 30 years.

“We voted this down before, despite dire warnings, our county still got hundreds of millions for roads, because of the economic development including new housing that it brings. It's a good business case that attracts the money, not a Mayor.”

She warned that funds may be focussed on the north and north-east to offset failing industries and a new free port planned. “Housing and 38,000 acres of industrial solar developments are already in progress here. We need better services instead.”

Coun Overton said the sheer size of the proposed area makes it challenging to influence decisions for local benefit and harder to make local voices heard as power would be placed into few hands.

She also questioned the efficiency of a larger authority and “an unnecessary extra layer of bureaucracy”.

There is currently a consultation process running with public events around the county until January 29. The last one will be at The Showroom in Lincoln tomorrow (Thursday) 3-7pm.

Coun Overton called on the public to object using question 6 of the consultation questionnaire.

The first drop-in public information event in the county was held in The Source in Sleaford, earlier this month.

Leader of LCC, Coun Martin Hill joined officials talking to residents hoping to gain a greater understanding of what was at stake.

At that stage Coun Hill said they had already received over 2,000 responses and he accepted that the governance issue was causing the most interest.

Countering Coun Overton’s concerns that not enough extra money was being offered, he said: “It is enough money – £25m every single year adds up to £720m.”

He said: “We are getting the adult education budget and will get other projects, at the moment the likes of Mayoral authorities such as Birmingham and Manchester are getting preferential treatment and better transport links. Our political view is we don’t want Lincolnshire to be left behind. Market towns such as Sleaford need more investment and regeneration due to the way the retail sector is operating these days, so we need to come up with bigger solutions.

"This is about extra regeneration money. We would like the money for improving bus services, transport and communication links.”

Sleaford residents had mixed views. Dr Robert Dewerden thought it was “high time” the devolution deal moved forward: “Cooperative working has got to be the way to do things. Having worked in local government elsewhere I have learned we achieve more together than we do on our own. The more we can devolve decision making to where it is being used the better.”

Gavin and Diane Lucas were less in favour of another tier of local government.

Diane said: “That money will go to Grimsby, Immingham and Scunthorpe where they want to build a freeport.” She said it ought to be sunk into repairing the roads, the town’s cinema project and finally redeveloping the Bass Maltings.