Lincolnshire council leaders lock heads over unitary plans

Lincolnshire County Council is leading a review of proposals for a unitary council, which would see district and county councils dissolved in a bid to save £30 million.

Among options considered by the county council to deal with funding cuts, the Conservative Leader of Lincolnshire County Council will make a motion to begin the review at the full council meeting on Friday, May 15.

Update, 5pm May 15: The motion for the task and finish group to consider unitary options was passed. The force will ask the leader of the council to write to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, making the case for the “urgent reform of the funding allocation system and the extension of devolved opportunities for Lincolnshire”.

Councillor Martin Hill said: “It’s long been recognised that rural areas like Lincolnshire receive less than their fair share of government funding.

“It’s time that this was put right, and we’ll be urging the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to have the courage to do so.

“We’ll also be campaigning for more responsibilities to be devolved to local authorities, giving them the freedom they need to do what’s best for residents.

“We’re committed to playing our part in balancing the nation’s books, and have made a significant contribution in recent years.

“But the public sector must be allowed to evolve and find innovative ways of do things, if we are to make the savings the Government is asking of us while protecting the services residents value most.”

A motion was made previously by councillor Christopher Pain, which was amended and seconded, using Wiltshire’s Unitary Council as an example and forecasting equivalent savings for Lincolnshire of between £25 million and £38 million.

It was resolved that the council would set up a Task and Finish Group to look closely at the potential benefits, risks, costs and savings of having a ‘unitary status’.

[election-quote name=”Martin Hill” twitter=”CllrmHill” bio=”Conservative Leader of Lincolnshire County Council and councillor representing Folkingham Rural Division” image=”” ]We know our funding will continue to be cut significantly as the Government works to balance the books. After all the savings this council has already made, it’ll be a big challenge to find more, although I’m sure it can be done.

“However, it’s worth remembering that, since 2010, local government has absorbed bigger spending cuts than any other part of the public sector. Councils now believe it’s time for those other departments to shoulder a larger share of the load, and we’ll be making that argument strongly to Government.

“This authority will also be campaigning for a fairer grant allocation for Lincolnshire, which still receives much less than many other areas.

“Besides lobbying for a fairer financial settlement, we’ll be asking the Government to devolve more powers to local areas, enabling us to work more closely with key partners like the district councils, health and the police.

“We’ve done some initial work and, for example, if we went for one unitary authority, we would save about £30m a year. I’m not saying that this is the answer but we can’t ignore that issue.

“However, the aim is not just to generate savings, but also to provide good services for local people, which is what councils are all about.”[/election-quote]

The motion proposed by Councillor Martin Hill will be:

“The council instructs the Unitary Options task and finish group to include these considerations within its remit and asks the Leader of the council to write to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government making the case for the urgent reform of the funding allocation system and the extension of devolved opportunities to Lincolnshire.”

The news of a fresh motion has been met by opposition from leaders of some district councils across the county.

Labour Leader of the City of Lincoln Council has spoken out against the plans, stating that the move for a unitary authority would be “completely unacceptable”.

[election-quote name=”Ric Metcalfe” twitter=”lincolncouncil” bio=”Labour Leader of the City of Lincoln Council” image=”” ]The proposal to scrap county and district councils and establish a large, distant unitary authority stretching out across the whole of Lincolnshire is one which the people of Lincoln would find completely unacceptable.

“A unitary of this size would severely weaken local democracy and connectivity with the people as they need to have local councillors they can hold to account for what takes place in the city.

“Lincoln has a very strong and distinctive identity which the county of Lincolnshire lacks. This assists us in bringing investment and significant numbers of tourists to the city and helps drive our local economy.

“The city council is efficient and effective in the way it conducts itself currently and creating a huge unitary authority would take a significant amount of time and funds, which would have to be diverted away from where it is needed the most.

“Any proposal to create a new authority would require our support, along with that of all our district partners. I very much doubt that the idea of a unitary will find many supporters within Lincolnshire’s authorities and, as such, any work carried out on the proposal will inevitably be a waste of both time and public money.”[/election-quote]

District councils will engage with the review, and continue to be involved in ongoing discussions.

Representatives from local authorities in Lincoln and the surrounding areas have reacted to the motion.

[election-quote name=”Marion Brighton” twitter=”NorthKestevenDC” bio=”Conservative Leader of North Kesteven District Council” image=”” ]Following the election, NKDC is focused on next week’s Annual Council Meeting and finalising its plans for the next four years. The council is focused on its plans for the local economy, its housing programme and delivering excellent local community services.

While the Council would need to establish a formal response to any outcomes of any review, in principle it does share the county council’s aspirations for the devolution of powers and finance to Lincolnshire. We believe that devolution could provide an opportunity to deliver better outcomes for local people, economic prosperity for local communities, and greater efficiency in the delivery of local public services.

The council is keen to engage positively with all partners to explore options for devolution, including the potential for combined authorities. It does not believe however that unitary local government is necessarily the right answer given the costs associated with restructuring and the time taken up to affect this sort of change. Nevertheless, this council looks forward to ongoing discussions with the county council and others.”[/election-quote]

[election-quote name=”Bob Adams” twitter=”southkesteven” bio=”South Kesteven District Council’s Conservative Group Leader” image=”” ]LCC is currently undertaking a scrutiny review into the merits of a single unitary council for Lincolnshire. District Councils will be engaged in the review and we await the outcome of the report.”[/election-quote]

[election-quote name=”Manjeet Gill” twitter=”WestLindseyDC” bio=”Chief Executive of West Lindsey District Council” image=”” ]Lincolnshire County Council via the chief executives have shared with district chief executives at their monthly meeting, (a couple of weeks ago), that they are leading a review of a unitary council. They respect that we were having elections and would engage after elections on our position.

“We as chief executives expressed a desire to be engaged as partners in any review and understand the best outcomes and options for public reform. We need to look at all models not just unitary for example combined authorities and what are the priorities for the district’s prosperity and residents’ needs.

“We have just had an election and are awaiting our annual council next Thursday, which will elect the leader of the council. The council will then engage with its neighbouring councils, the county and other districts to seek a collective voice on what is best for the district.”[/election-quote]

[election-quote name=”Stuart Davy” twitter=”EastLindseyDC” bio=”Chief Executive of East Lindsey District Council” image=”” ]LCC is currently undertaking a scrutiny review into the merits of a single unitary Council for Lincolnshire. District Councils will be engaged in the review and we await the report with interest.”[/election-quote]

Watch the full council meeting live: