Councils across the country and in Lincolnshire have had to deal with dramatic central budget cuts in the past decade, and the COVID crisis in 2020/21 has compounded that issue. Yet a few notorious challenges remain a priority for Lincolnshire people ahead of the local elections on May 6.
The Lincolnite has spoken to communities across Lincolnshire, from Grantham to Boston, to Market Rasen and Louth. Three standout issues emerged from our discussions, and were at the hearts of people in the county after a year of being in lockdown: potholes, street lighting and fly-tipping.
Road maintenance comes down to funding from central government, street lighting was another way for councils to save money, and fly-tipping is a complex problem as the tips are run by the county council, but the district councils have to deal with the clean up and general rubbish, garden waste and recycling collections.
The Lincolnite spoke to the four main political party leaders in Lincolnshire: Cllr Martin Hill (Conservatives), Cllr Rob Parker (Labour), Cllr Marianne Overton (Lincolnshire Independents) and Cllr Matthew Boles (Liberal Democrats) about their electoral promises. They represent more than 250 candidates in almost 70 wards standing in the Lincolnshire County Council elections. See the full candidate list here.
Martin Hill (Conservatives)
Current leader of the county council, Conservative Cllr Martin Hill will stand for his ward, Folkingham Rural on May 6. He promised his party will look to “continue the good work” it has done over the past few years if re-elected. This includes keeping council tax low, improving roads, broadband and other infrastructure.
Cllr Martin Hill said: “The council tax we have put up is just under 2%, where we could have gone to 5%, and we will remain the second lowest council tax precept county council in the whole country.”
The council has received over £40 million extra funding from government to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, to support people who need extra help in the care sector and those with lost income. The council also put aside from its reserves a £12 million support package for local businesses facing difficulties recovering the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside another £200,000 for an emergency flood response scheme.
Cllr Hill believes more funding is needed in areas like highways, but savings have been made, such as £2.5 million a year by not having street lights turned on between midnight and 6am. Yet the Conservatives’ main priorities are with road maintenance. The council spends around £50 million a year on highways and a further £35 million on tarmac, with an additional £12 million being put into the highways budget this year.
In a bid to get more funding for Lincolnshire, Martin Hill has been an advocate and continues to strive for devolution for Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire, saying he believes it would give more power and money to the region. However, government ministers previously said Lincolnshire’s devolution bid could only come alongside a new mayor role, which was a deal breaker in previous discussions.
Rob Parker (Labour)
Labour opposition leader Cllr Rob Parker is standing for his ward, Lincoln Carholme, on May 6. Labour are putting one of the key issues highlighted by people of Lincolnshire at the forefront of their campaign – street lighting.
They have a four point manifesto which includes wanting Lincolnshire to become a green beacon, improving public transport, switching street lights on at night and supporting young people during the pandemic. Labour want to turn street lights back on all night, but replace them with energy efficient LED lighting. If they were in power, they would implement a £7.2 million spending programme over three years to do this.
Labour’s green priority will include championing the use of electric vehicles and having a green approach to delivering services. Through improved public transport, Labour hope to make savings. For example, if fewer people are having to use cars and use an enhanced version of public transport, less work will be required on the roads, they say. This would also include improved bus services and promoting more walking and cycling under the Labour plans.
The final Labour priority is a catch up schooling programme in the summer holidays and weekends for young people affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Labour said “nobody will be left behind” as the county recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, especially young people, if their party are put in power.
Marianne Overton (Lincolnshire Independents)
Lincolnshire Independents are the third main party standing in local elections this year, with leader Cllr Marianne Overton fighting to keep her seat in Bassingham and Welbourn. They are campaigning for safer and properly repaired roads, care for a clean, green environment, tackling climate change and supporting local businesses, as well as fighting for more central government funding.
Cllr Overton is concerned about planning proposals to allow large onshore wind turbines to be approved, spoiling the rural countryside of Lincolnshire. Historically, the Conservatives have opposed onshore wind farms, but supported offshore ones.
Cllr Overton’s other campaign issues revolve around devolution, where she says one Greater Lincolnshire body would reduce thepower of district councils, such as North Kesteven District Council, which is run by a combined Conservative and Independent partnership called the ‘NK Administration Group’.
She also criticised the government’s plans to scrap the planning system, so decision-making is more centralised. The Lincolnshire Independents want strong local control over their own councils and areas.
The Lincolnshire Independents leader said she was opposed to any plans to “sweep away” clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and replace them with a new body. CCGs deal with the planning and commissioning of health care services for their local area.
The Lincolnshire Independents say they will be “local champions” if elected and have promised to “listen carefully” to what residents think is important.
Matthew Boles (Liberal Democrats)
Councillor Matthew Boles will be fighting for his county council division, Gainsborough Hill, in next month’s election. He is the only Liberal Democrat with a county council seat, despite the party having a strong local hold of West Lindsey District Council.
He believes the Conservative county administration has failed Lincolnshire in terms of getting fair funding, despite having “had the mechanisms through controlling the county council”.
In his division, Cllr Boles has been campaigning for services to be restored at John Coupland Hospital.
Street lighting is second on the agenda for the Liberal Democrats, with them campaigning to keep them switched on all night. Cllr Boles disputes that there is no link to crime due to streetlights turned off.
The delays and maintenance in fixing potholes is another priority for the Liberal Democrats. They believe it’s important to fix jobs as quickly and efficiently as possible to save money in the long term in order to prevent potholes getting worse and harder to fix.
They Liberal Democrats are also calling on the county council to restore waste recycling centres and keep them open fully due to their unavailability during the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike, Cllr Hill, they believe “if a tip was fully open, this might alleviate some of these issues.”
The hot topics: Potholes, street lights and fly-tipping
After a year in lockdown, we asked people across Lincolnshire what is most important to them for the next council in power to combat.
The Lincolnite reached out to communities online in Lincoln, Sleaford, Spalding, Grantham, Market Rasen, Gainsborough, Louth, Skegness, Mablethrope and Boston.
What we found was that a lot of your priorities were with the issues of potholes, street lights and fly-tipping.
We then asked the four main party leaders their thoughts on these issues and how they would tackle them.
What the people of Lincolnshire said:
Sarah Wilson said: “Pot holes, everywhere! I’m actually scared to drive to Lincoln with the amount of swerving I have to do, it’s so dangerous. Why have the roads been allowed to get in this state? Where is the money going? With road safety in Lincolnshire being such a high priority with all the campaigns and everything because of the high number of deaths it just seems inconceivable to me that something as, in my opinion, basic, as this has become such a huge issue.”
Kerry Drayton said street lighting was a concern: “Couldn’t the council put on every other light on throughout town and then every street would have light! (Don’t get me wrong it would be brilliant if all the lights were on!).”
Sarah Blades said that “fly tipping in the villages surrounding Gainsborough” was an issue.
What the election candidates said:
Martin Hill (Conservatives) said: “We’re mending over 100,000 potholes a year on average and it is a job to maintain it. Government should give more money to councils out of the road tax, the fuel tax that they get, and really across the whole country more money should be given to highways maintenance.”
Rob Parker (Labour) said: “Lincolnshire and the Conservatives at the moment spend a significant amount of money on highway maintenance. The question is whether we’re getting value for money out of it. We haven’t got the resources to fix a pothole within a week of it being reported, we need to get that message across to dampen down expectation levels.”
Marianne Overton (Lincolnshire Independents) said: “The consequence of [austerity] is that we have roads that have fallen apart to their very foundation, so now we’re filling potholes on the top. They’re in a really poor state and many of them need significant improvements, which nobody can see how that’s ever going to be funded.”
Matthew Boles (Liberal Democrats) said: “It’s not necessarily about spending more money, it’s about spending your money wisely and being more effective. If you can repair these potholes when they’re smaller, they’re not going to expand into the giant craters we’re seeing.”
Martin Hill (Conservatives) said: “We are going to spend more money on domestic violence and domestic abuse […] tackling and trying to prevent domestic violence is a priority. If there is a local issue and it’s the right thing to do, we will switch lights back on.”
Rob Parker (Labour) said: “We want to ensure that the county council’s streetlights are switched back on throughout the night and convert them to energy efficient LED lighting. We certainly know that would be popular in Lincoln with its universities and particularly for women and also in rural areas.”
Marianne Overton (Lincolnshire Independents) said: “It’s about having a proper, sensitive listening approach to looking at each application from residents carefully. Just a blanket approach of turning them off in so many places is not detailed enough and that’s why you need local Independents who understand the local areas and are prepared to speak up for them.”
Matthew Boles (Liberal Democrats) said: “We all believe that turning off streetlights has had an impact on crime and not just actual crime, but the fear of crime. The police are starting to change that position, so hopefully if they do, we might be able to enact some change. I believe there are many reasons why we should have the lights back on.”
Martin Hill (Conservatives) said: “When the pandemic is over, we want to make sure people will be able to go to the tip when they reasonably can and not have to book or queue. People throwing stuff out their car has got absolutely nothing to do with whether the tip is open or not.”
Rob Parker (Labour) said: “We have to be promoting fly-tipping as something that is completely socially unacceptable. We need to keep our household waste recycling centres open as much as we can so there is an opportunity for people to take the rubbish not to the nearest dark part of Lincolnshire and bin it, but to take it easily, quickly and efficiently to a household recycling centre.”
Marianne Overton (Lincolnshire Independents) said: “One thing we can do is to make sure there is easy access to getting rid of rubbish. Secondly, what we already do is actually investigate and prosecute wherever is possible. Thirdly, it’s about education, it’s about making sure that children, people and everybody does not accept it. We need local Independent voices speaking up for our areas.”
Matthew Boles (Liberal Democrats) said: “We are calling on the county council to scrap the click and tip scheme and the conditions in place on the waste recycling centres and open them up fully, as they were pre-COVID. We believe there should be some additional provision or resources put into some sort of education about littering and fly tipping.”