Lincoln MP Karl McCartney predicts that Greater Lincolnshire could become a unitary authority “very soon”, with a central mayor and a group of elected “super councillors”.
In part three of our exclusive interview with the Lincoln MP, we discussed the Conservative government’s plans on levelling up, what that means, and what we can expect in the county of Lincolnshire.
Despite promises of levelling up, almost all of Greater Lincolnshire’s councils face further cuts to their budget for 2022, most notably Lincolnshire County Council’s pothole fund, which was cut by 25%.
Karl McCartney said: “I’ve gone into bat on that quite majorly in the fact that I asked the Prime Minister at PMQs.
“I asked the Prime Minister to put some pressure on the Treasury, to put some pressure on the Department of Transport, to give 25% back to Lincolnshire County Council for the pothole budget. I asked the Treasury team direct as well, and was in a meeting with the Chancellor earlier this week where it came up again, because it’s important to me.
“That budget is very important, and any cut, never mind a quarter, which I know the county council filled from its reserves, but it can’t continue to do that, and we’re a big county; it’s just something we can’t let slide.”
This then prompted a wider argument made by the Lincoln MP, who feels that “very soon there will be local government reorganisation in Lincolnshire” in the form of a unitary authority, rather than districts.
He said it was important that Lincolnshire didn’t attempt to re-form an East Midlands authority with Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, as our county “didn’t get a look in with the money that was available” through the previous regional development funds.
Mr McCartney explained his vision, detailing how he would seek to make Greater Lincolnshire, including Rutland, North and North East Lincolnshire, a standalone authority with a mayor and elected members in the form of ‘super councillors’.
“I’ve argued for a long time that I actually didn’t want to see us have a West Midlands model, i.e. we have an East Midlands mayor, because that goes back to the old regional development agencies which, just before I arrived in 2004, Lincolnshire was a part of with Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire.
“Lincolnshire didn’t get a look in with the money that was available, and I don’t want to go back to that. If there’s an East Midlands mayor, I doubt it very much, then let’s be honest, politics in most rural areas, it’s gonna be someone with a Conservative hat on, I can’t see that ever not being the case; But where are the Conservative members in Lincolnshire?
“Yes we have Conservative members, but Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire have more than we do, so they’ll argue it out between the three of them. It’s very unlikely that it would be somebody from Lincolnshire.
“If there was a mayor of the East Midlands, like there is in the West Midlands, it’s not going to be someone with the best interests of Lincolnshire at heart, so I was banging heads together at the county and district level saying you’re going to have to suck it up and say we’re going to have a Greater Lincolnshire mayor.
“So you’ve got boundary changes now to the south of the county where Rutland is being brought back in I would say, and I can see Rutland becoming part of Lincolnshire, and then if you take in North and North East Lincolnshire; you have 13 constituencies and a huge area.
“Now the county council and others at district level can argue about what the structure should be, whether turkeys vote for Christmas or not we’ll see, but I personally think the only way forward is one unitary.
“I can see one unitary with a mayor and maybe the London model of assembly members. But actually it forms three to four super councillors per constituency, that’s 40 people with a mayor as well. 40 people elected to talk about Lincolnshire, and I’m hoping we’re gonna get really good people, because that’s what you want in politics, you really need the people to actually deliver.”
Mr McCartney said that there was discussion between district councils in the East of Lincolnshire splitting off to become an Eastern Block, which he says “economically doesn’t work” and would “dilute” opportunities to be given funding in the future.
“I’m always going to fight for Lincoln, that’s my main role, but actually Lincolnshire then comes next, I want to see the county thrive. I’ve always said I see Lincoln as the gateway to Lincolnshire and it’s an amazing city, but it’s also an amazing county.
“We do need to have joined up governance on a more local level, and if the three other areas in the East Midlands are already lining themselves up to have them there.
“I’m saying wake up and smell the coffee Lincolnshire, we’re going to have a mayor.
“Why do they not want a mayor in Lincolnshire? Because they all suspect that person, whoever it might be, will be more important than them.
“One of the first conversations I had with Ric Metcalfe [Leader of City of Lincoln Council] as a Conservative candidate was about how the only way he foresaw Lincoln reaching its true potential was becoming a unitarian [authority], spreading outside of the current city boundary.”
McCartney even suggested that Lincolnshire County Council’s devolution bid to government in 2016 could have something to do with the 25% cut to the pothole budget.
“Economically there was a bunch of carrots on the end of the stick that were being dangled in front of those who were in the advanced party of going down the devolution route, and for whatever reasons, those at the top of the tree decided to blow it out the water; and perhaps they paid the price both personally and politically in the fact we’re now seeing a 25% cut to the potholes budget.”
Cllr Martin Hill, leader of Lincolnshire County Council, said: “All the councils in Lincolnshire have jointly put an expression of interest into the government on devolution. Governance has not been discussed as we are waiting on the White Paper, now promised later in the month [January].”