Martin Hill: Local councils – time for change?

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I believe politicians should listen to the people they represent, not dictate to them.

That applies not just on the national stage, as with the historic EU referendum, but also at a grassroots level here in Lincolnshire.

And that’s why – as you may have heard – I want residents to have their say on the future of local government in the county.

At the moment, we have a “two-tier” set of arrangements involving eight main authorities – Lincolnshire County Council and the seven districts.

Put simply, that’s just far too many these days – and it isn’t financially sustainable.

It’s estimated that a new “unitary” system, with far fewer councils, could save as much as £150m – or £82,000 every week – over five years.

That’s a huge amount of money that could be used to protect frontline services, which are under pressure as funding for local government falls.

The savings could also be used to keep council tax down, helping local families as they struggle to make ends meet themselves.

Besides being less wasteful, a streamlined system would be much less complicated for residents.

As things stand, people are understandably unsure which council to contact about a particular service – that confusion would disappear overnight.

What’s more, having one less tier would leave more space for town and parish councils to flourish, strengthening grassroots links with local people.

So why hasn’t a unitary system been brought in before?

In many areas of the country, it already has – and the benefits are obvious.

Crucially, greater simplicity has helped make services more affordable – and that’s a lesson Lincolnshire authorities can no longer ignore.

As budgets fall, the services we provide for county residents are having to be cut or, in some cases, stopped altogether.

That’s not something any of us want – and we need to find new and better ways of doing things.

Last year, a proposed Lincolnshire devolution deal was rejected by the county council following consultation with local people.

We were guided by the fact that 53% of those taking part in this area said they didn’t want an elected mayor.

Many of you clearly regarded this as an unnecessary new level of bureaucracy – and urged us to consider new unitary arrangements instead.

I believe the time for that debate has now come, and the issue is going before a full meeting of Lincolnshire County Council on February 24.

In that debate, members will decide whether to put the question to local people in a poll.

The poll would be designed to find out if you favour abolishing the current set-up of eight Lincolnshire councils and replacing it with some kind of unitary arrangement.

That could ultimately be a single countywide authority – or perhaps two or more councils covering smaller areas.

The principle, though, would be clear – each area would only have one main council providing services.

As regards timing, the poll would be held at the same time as the May local government elections.

That way, costs would be kept to a minimum, while still finding out the views of the people who really matter – the residents of Lincolnshire.

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