District council leaders raise concerns over Lincolnshire devolution proposals

Lincolnshire’s seven District Councils have put forward their suggested timeframe for a review of local governance arrangements within the county, after it was announced this week that Lincolnshire may be invited to bid for local government reorganisation later this year as part of a devolution package.

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The move to restructure the county’s governance has been led by Lincolnshire County Council, with support from Lincolnshire’s two existing unitary authorities.

This is the second time in recent years that a devolution deal for Lincolnshire has been considered, with the county council choosing not to progress plans for a mayoral combined authority in 2016. The districts have, however, expressed their disappointment with the lack of engagement and consultation so far.

Lincolnshire's councils will be invited to submit a bid for reorganisation and devolution potentially as early as September this year, and should it be accepted, all of Lincolnshire’s councils would be disbanded in 2022.

In a letter to the Minster for Growth and Local Government, Simon Clarke MP, which followed a meeting earlier in the week, district council leaders have raised a number of concerns about the proposed approach, including the rapid timeframe for implementation and the need for sufficient time for meaningful consultation.

In a statement this afternoon, the districts said they believe that this approach to implementation is less likely to be successful, and feel the lack of consultation prior to the submission of a bid means the proposals do not take into account the county’s complex physical, economic and social geography – which must be at the heart of any reorganisation.

The districts have proposed an approach that seeks to scale up local government within the county; increasing its capacity to significantly boost economic growth, addressing the most pressing social issues, and promoting the more effective stewardship of environmental resources.

The districts would first seek to undertake a comprehensive scoping exercise that identifies what a successful, enduring reorganisation would look like. This would then allow the proposals to be implemented in 2023, in replacement of the scheduled elections to the existing authorities.

Here's what the district council leaders have said...

Councillor Craig Leyland, Leader of East Lindsey District Council, said: “When devolution was raised as a possibility again earlier in the year, I was clear that I believed it was not the right time to be pursuing a deal. I still believe this to be the case, however I also recognise that these discussions have now moved on apace and, if local government re-organisation is to take place in Lincolnshire, we must find a way of doing that which works for everyone. By working with our district colleagues, we have been able to bring forward our own proposals that seek to find the most suitable, long term solution for all of Lincolnshire which has to be the aim of any reorganisation and devolution. There is no rush to get this deal done, and I would like all of us – including the county council and the two unitary authorities - to come together in a considered way and make sure we get this right.”

Councillor Giles McNeill, Leader of West Lindsey District Council, said: “The County’s unilateral approach to the Secretary of State will lead to a divisive discussion into local government structures is highly indulgent, when the clear priority of HM Government and our local authorities should, rightly, be on the current Covid-19 pandemic, the recovery following the current crisis, and working to deliver the best possible public services to our residents.”

Councillor Paul Skinner, Leader of Boston Borough Council, said: “Devolution is clearly part of the Government agenda. We need to work together with other districts to make sure this is fit for purpose for the whole of Lincolnshire. We have been told that some of the monies we haven’t been getting into the Borough of Boston and Lincolnshire will become available to us as part of this deal. I believe there is no immediate rush to complete this deal, we need to work together and make sure we get it right for the people of Lincolnshire”

Councillor Richard Wright, Leader of North Kesteven District Council, said: “North Kesteven District Council has long advocated an appropriate devolution deal for Lincolnshire, founded on cooperation, respectful partnerships and investment for the delivery of a shared ambition to enable all of our communities to flourish; and we continue to do so. Councils such as ours are focused on responding to the ongoing pandemic and to supporting our communities and our local economy in recovery. The process has not formally begun, but if and when it should do so, I fully intend to understand and represent the views and concerns of the District in those discussions and to ensure it is fully considered in the most appropriate timeframe.”

Councillor Kelham Cooke, Leader of South Kesteven District Council, said: “With the publication of the Government’s Devolution White Paper due in the autumn, it is not surprising that discussions on this topic are gaining momentum. However, whilst I support and welcome the Government’s general direction of travel, I remain concerned that the time is not right for Lincolnshire to push forward with plans that will have a profound impact upon our communities right across Lincolnshire. We are a vast and very diverse county and this must be fully considered and reflected in any plans for devolution and reorganisation to ensure that Lincolnshire’s huge potential for growth is properly harnessed and enhanced by any future reorganisation, an ambition we know is shared and supported by the Government. Local authorities across the county have successfully supported their communities through the response phase of Covid-19. But the virus is still with us, and our focus right now must be on supporting and nurturing vital economic growth and recovery on the ground, and from the grassroots up, building on the trust we have already established with our local businesses. To retain this trust, we must bring people with us through a collaborative approach with our partners, with those we do business with, and those we serve. We have yet to see what is in the Government’s White Paper, it would be prudent to ensure that as we move forward we do so at a pace and with a plan that is informed by the white paper, and has the interests of our communities front and centre during what is still an unprecedented time in our history.”

Councillor Ric Metcalfe, Leader of City of Lincoln Council, said: “City of Lincoln Council has been a long standing enthusiast for a devolution deal and has been an active and constructive partner within the Greater Lincolnshire partnership over many years to help try and achieve this. However, we are very clear that now is not the time to be pursuing a deal. The council has shown a fantastic level of resilience to deal with the upheavals this year has thrown at us and to consider devolution at a time when we were all still responding to the Covid-19 pandemic is wholly inappropriate. It is imperative that, over the coming year, we use all our capacity to drive forward with the city’s economic recovery. Our consent was neither asked for nor given for Lincolnshire County Council to approach government on the issue at this time. The county council’s views on local government reorganisation and devolution do not represent our own. There is no rush to get a deal in place, it is wholly unrealistic and inappropriate and we will work to ensure that our views and concerns are conveyed and addressed as part of any discussions with government.”