A new partnership of councils could be a triple-threat – and save taxpayers £42 million.
Boston Borough, East Lindsey and South Holland District Councils have now formally signed off on plans to create the South and East Lincolnshire Councils Partnership.
The authorities say the agreement allows them to be ‘distinct entities’ and remain separate, however, they will share a senior management team – with Rob Barlow taking over as chief executive for all three – and reduce duplication across the authorities in order to make £42 million of savings over the next 10 years.
They will also support each other in bids to improve their respective areas, through funding or demonstration of ambition, or fight off unwanted developments.
Leader of Boston Borough Council Paul Skinner said: “It gives us an awful lot more resilience, and some of the ways the staff have come together expertise-wise will provide us with lots of strength in areas that we haven’t had before.”
And the move also strengthens the authority’s position for a devolution bid, if local government reorganisation is put back on the table.
Leader of South Holland District Council Lord Gary Porter was very much in favour of the £450 million devolution deal offered to the county, but refused due to the requirement for a mayor back in 2016.
He said recent reorganisations in Cumbria showed the government were prepared to look at unitary councils of 300,000 population – the three councils have a combined population of more than 304,000.
“I firmly believe what we’ve done now, would give us a very good building block, if that agenda comes back again,” he said.
“If somebody did put the unitary conversation back on the table, we would be well placed to take that forward on behalf of our residents.”
East Lindsey District Council leader Craig Leyland called the former bid a ‘missed opportunity’ but said the new partnership was a ‘progressive decision’ to take advantage of government talks.
“We’d be more than willing to have a devolution deal with our colleagues and partners across the county because we’re ready,” he said.
“There’s things we can do collectively, a huge opportunity was missed, but we’re not planning on missing other opportunities.”
He later added: “I think by dent of time and practice of working together, we will actually probably have very similar views on many things.
“The ambition, and the appetite, at the moment is to keep distinct councils in terms of local accountability, but the wider ambitions of the alliance are evident and clear.”
The councils said the latest move will provide more efficiency, as well as shared resources and policies going forward.
Savings will be made through a series of service reviews over a number of years, but leaders were unclear about where those would focus on.
Joint bids are hoped to attract funding such as the town deals fund or money to tackle flooding problems, while the specialist knowledge each area has in, for instance coastal tourism, agricultural tech and other industries can be shared to bring skills to each area.
The partnership will look to utilise Boston’s port which has undergone revitalisation during the Covid pandemic, as well as attract new factories, warehouses and other major businesses to create hundreds of jobs.