Residents can have their say on whether the county should have a directly elected mayor, with devolution proposals also including the option of combining the role with that of the Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner.
The Greater Lincolnshire devolution consultation was launched on Monday, June 27. People are being asked for their views until August 8.
Representatives from all 10 councils between the Humber and the Wash met for the launch of the consultation to introduce the new “historic enterprise” seeking £450 million over 30 years.
A ‘combined authority’ of elected councillors from the 10 councils and a Greater Lincolnshire Enterprise Partnership member would use the funding for infrastructure projects including transport, housing, skills, flood risk management and criminal justice services.
They’d be overseen by a Greater Lincolnshire mayor, who would be elected in May 2017.
Council leaders stated the devolved responsibility would be “new territory and a challenge”, with City of Lincoln Council leader Ric Metcalfe admitting while he was still “ambivalent” about the idea of a directly elected mayor, it was a worthwhile condition of the deal.
He said: “This has been in the context of local government for many years. People have been saying the decision making in Britain is too centralised.
“I wasn’t in favour of a directly elected mayor. That remains my position. It was a condition of the deal so we had a hard choice to make. On balance we thought the deal was worth having and we’d live with a directly elected mayor.
“We’re very mindful of the need to be sensible about the use of public money for the use of directly elected roles, so our view is in the medium to longer term we should look to combine the two roles. I would support that idea.”
For the mayor role and the PCC to be combined there would need to be a change made by government to the Police and Crime Commissioner boundaries, as currently the Greater Lincolnshire area is served by both the Lincolnshire and Humberside Commissioners.
Lincolnshire County Council leader Martin Hill added: “The government have made it clear that we’ve got to have a directly elected mayor. We’ve had to grapple with that and we need the support of the public to say if they feel having a mayor is the price worth paying for devolution.
“The government has given us a timetable which will remain in place until someone changes it.
“The suggestion of the PCC taking on the mayoral position would be a longer term plan with the current PCC only having been elected this year.
“It’s only a thought at the moment. We’d have to talk to colleagues in the north, but those roles would combine for 2020.
“There is an issue of there being a new Prime Minister in place in that timescale. That may change a bit. We need to make sure the new government has the same priorities as the same government.
“We probably all feel the country is over centralised at the moment. An outcome of the referendum last week was that people probably feel that their decisions are being made too remotely from them.
“We wanted to grab the opportunity with both hands so we get investment but also we get money given to us to deal with things like skills, housing and transport, where we can make the decisions rather than civil servants in London.”
The consultation phase has been launched against a backdrop of political instability in the fallout from the EU Referendum.
Ric Metcalfe, who campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, added: “The timing does introduce an uncertain background. We all know how uncertain things will be over the next few months and probably longer in terms of our relationship with the EU, but there is an important agenda here to get on with and we have a written agreement with the current government.
“Our expectation is that there shouldn’t be anything to interrupt that agreement until we’re told otherwise.
“EU funding is in play already in Greater Lincolnshire and that will continue to be in place until we actually withdraw. There is significant evidence to suggest it’s going to take quite a long time to withdraw.
“There is all this uncertainty of course about what replacement there will be for what currently comes through the EU for areas of need as we have in the county.
“It’s an uncertain future there’s no doubt about that.”
Councillor Martin Hill, who was in the Leave camp in the run up to the referendum, said: “Leaving the EU could affect it and it’s a matter of government. The government has given the commitment that they will give this money, in our case the £15 million.
“It’s one of the areas we need to explore with government. We need to make sure if we agree to this the government will guarantee what there is.
“The £15 million is guaranteed for four years and then the expectation is it will continue.
“It terms of EU funding, you’ve got to remember that it’s our money that we’re getting back. There is a financial bonus because we won’t be paying out, but our money will come back.
“Our budget could increase. Government will have to decide and obviously there are massive issues. We still have our funding cuts to deal with and there are all sorts of issues with the NHS.”
Consultation documents can be found online here, as well as in County News magazine, which is distributed to households in Lincolnshire. Hardcopies of the forms can also be picked up from council buildings.