July 29, 2020 4.54 pm

John Marriott: Greater Lincolnshire devolution? Yes, please! Part 2

How the latest devolution big might pan out

I feel that some of the comments on my latest article on devolution deserve a reply and, indeed, further explanation. First of all, let me make it clear that neither Martin Hill, nor I are bosom buddies and that I have no intention of joining his party.

My opinion on him is based on sixteen years of being a member of the council on which he has served since 1993. I have seen how he and some of his more enlightened Tory colleagues rescued the council from the depths into which it had sunk by the early 2000s.

By the way, nobody is talking about ‘Hill for Lincolnshire Mayor’. We are talking about democratically elected and accountable councils providing more devolved services together with parish/town councils to their residents, with hopefully a reformed fiscal structure as an absolute essential. That they will probably be under Conservative control, either majority or outright, goes without saying.

While we have the current voting system this is unlikely to change in a hurry and even then, looking at the demography, it might take more than an earthquake to move the dial. This is Lincolnshire after all.

Cllr Spratt and others are quite right about a one council Lincolnshire being too remote. It’s an argument first used back in the early 1970s when the idea of unitary authorities was first raised by the Redcliffe-Maud Report following a Royal Commission into Local Government 1966-1969, which recommended the replacement of all councils in England above parish level by unitary councils.

However, as a Lincoln City councillor over many years (I think he and I got first elected at about the same time in the 1980s), if he might be putting in a bid for a City of Lincoln unitary, he is making the same mistake that his council made nearly thirty years ago. As far as the current Lincolnshire County Council area is concerned, two unitary authorities would make more sense.

I imagine that Cllr Hill and his fellow leaders would want to divide the ‘Humber to Wash’ by North and North East Lincolnshire combining in the north to leave Lincolnshire in the south. Together, the two unitaries south of the Humber would serve a population of around 320,000, which is manageable.

However, that would leave Lincolnshire with well over 700,000, which is far too big. Where would you put all the councillors in a meeting, for one thing, given that, by current ratios, you would need well over 200 of them?

Current council chambers are far too small and what if social distancing, even at one metre, becomes the norm well into the future? England’s largest unitary council, Cornwall, serves a population of over 360,000 people and currently has 123 councillors.

The answer as far as the Lincolnshire County Council area is concerned, as I said earlier, would be to divide it into two unitaries each running from east to west. So, how about West Lindsey, East Lindsey, Lincoln and North Kesteven (Part) for one and North Kesteven (Part), South Kesteven, Boston Borough and South Holland & Deepings for the other?

The combined population for the former would be around 370,000 and include the northern part of NK around North Hykeham, while that of the latter, which would include the rest of NK around Sleaford would be around 360,000. There might need to be a joint strategic body between the three councils to oversee highways, rather like the one that exists currently between County and Districts to oversee flood and drainage.

I appreciate that all this wouldn’t go down well in North Kesteven, but, as someone who used to make the regular trip up and down the A15 between North Hykeham and Sleaford to attend District Council meetings for eighteen years, there is quite a geographic divide between the two areas. Hykeham clearly belongs to greater Lincoln and has little affinity with the south, as do most of its surrounding villages.

Before I ‘retired’ in 2017 I served as one of the three County Council representatives on the Central Lincolnshire Joint Strategic Planning Committee, made up of the County Council, West Lindsey, Lincoln City and North Kesteven District Councils that successfully launched its Local Plan in April of that year. So the idea of such areas combining has a good track record.

I appreciate that discussing what to do about local government is hardly likely to generate as much interest as, for example, whether the real name of the late Wing Commander Guy Gibson’s dog should remain on its memorial. However, unless we do something about reforming how we are governed, our democracy will continue to suffer. On the other hand, perhaps most of us don’t really care.

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John Marriott is a former Lib Dem county councillor for Hykeham. A former Head of Languages at the North Kesteven School, he represented Hykeham Forum Division on the Lincolnshire County Council. From 1987 to 2011 he was a member of the North Hykeham Town Council and also served for 18 years on the North Kesteven District Council, finally standing down in 2007. He has lived in Hykeham since 1977.