Lincolnshire county councillors have voted to seek public views on unitary authority plans which would see the current county and local authority structure abolished.
The vote, which took place on Friday, February 24, means residents will be asked to take part in a consultation on plans for one or a few councils to run all council services across the county – instead of a referendum on county council election day (May 4), as originally tabled.
Councillors voted in favour of the Conservative-led administration’s proposals for reorganisation, following a charged debate in the council chamber.
Views of Lincolnshire residents will now be sought through options including a postal ballot, opinion poll or consultation through the council’s website or County News publication.
The county council has said Lincolnshire would save up to £150 million in the first five years, however councillors across tiers of the current local government structure have hotly debated both the idea of unitary governance and the process of seeking views.
Leader of Lincolnshire County Council Councillor Martin Hill said in the meeting: “This is an issue that has generated a lot of interest and debate.
“There have been detailed discussions between council leaders and there is a big unitary debate going across the country at the moment. We’re all suffering and local government is under severe financial strains. One of the options is active discussions on unitary organisation.
“There is evidence from other areas like Wiltshire or Cornwall. They all say they would never go back to the two tier system.
“The public just wants a simple system that is cost effective and works for them.
Conservative councillor Jacqueline Brockway challenged opposing members: “Why would we not want to ask the question? Because every councillor stands the risk of losing their position and their allowances? When is there a better time other than to save money?”
Dispute over plans and polls
The plans have been hotly debated since they first surfaced, not least by the council’s Labour opposition, who announced ahead of the meeting they would be voting against the plans, calling the various proposals on how to pursue plans “a shambles”.
Labour leader of the opposition on Lincolnshire County Council John Hough said in the meeting: “The outcome seems inevitable.
“We should concentrate on providing better services now rather that spending time, money and energy on this la la land.”
Councillor Phil Dilks added: “Martin Hill has been quoted saying ‘one council for Lincolnshire is the inevitable plan’. If that’s the case why do we go through this process? Is it a box ticking exercise or are you going to listen to the people of Lincolnshire this time?”
Some also raised issue with the way in which proposals were brought to the attention of district council leaders.
Labour leader of the City of Lincoln Council Ric Metcalfe has also previously voiced his opposition to proposals, challenging the county council on previous plans for a referendum, quoting legal advice.
A report outlining options for the public consultation will now be put together and most likely considered following county council elections in May.