A Lincolnshire MP has called for an end to the “complex layer cake of local bureaucracy” by replacing district and county councils with a single unitary authority serving the whole of the county.
Nick Boles, Conservative MP for Grantham and Stamford, has argued that Lincolnshire residents would be better served by one or two unitary authorities delivering all the services currently provided by Lincolnshire County Council and the seven district councils.
Boles, who is also Minister of State for Skills and Equalities, said: “Personally I favour a single unitary council for the whole county and the transfer of greater power over planning and the local environment to town councils in places like Stamford, Grantham and Bourne and parish councils in rural areas.
“We cannot justify spending more than £30 million a year on the administrative cost of our complex layer cake of local bureaucracy at a time when we are faced with the need for our county council to make further spending cuts of £170 million a year.
“Confronted with a choice between protecting local services and preserving two tiers of local government, I choose to protect local services.
“It’s time to grasp the nettle and give Lincolnshire a streamlined system of local government which will represent and serve local people best.”
Boles also lent his support to Lincolnshire County Council’s decision to increase council tax by 3.95%, an increase to the average taxpayer’s bill of £43.
The county council said that the rise was necessary to “balance the books”, but hit out at the funding settlement it received from central government, describing it as “a knife in the back for Lincolnshire.”
Boles said: “It was right to freeze council tax during the recession, when family budgets were under intense pressure.
“But now it is right to increase council tax a little so that we can pay for the social care that we need to support the elderly and vulnerable in our communities.
“Increased revenues from council tax will help our county council balance its books, as will prudent use of financial reserves and sales of land and other assets. But we still face big cuts in spending on some of the services that councils provide – in fact the county council needs to make bigger cuts in the future than those it has already implemented in the last five years.
“That is why I believe it is now time for us to ask ourselves whether we can really afford to have two tiers of local government (three if you include parish and town councils): not just Lincolnshire County Council but seven district councils like South Kesteven, North Kesteven and South Holland.”
Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, Martin Hill, has previously indicated his broad support for such an idea.
However, Labour’s Ric Metcalfe, leader of the City of Lincoln Council, has described the proposals as “completely unacceptable.”
Both are in favour of plans for further transfer of powers to Lincolnshire from the government, with Lincolnshire County Council, City of Lincoln Council, and the remaining district councils in Greater Lincolnshire all supporting the county’s devolution bid.