June 22, 2022 5.25 pm

District councils still wary over Lincolnshire devolution reorganisation threat

“Stalking horses” for unitary authorities

District councils in Lincolnshire are still wary that a bid for devolution of powers to a combined Greater Lincolnshire authority could lead to all councils being dissolved as part of local government reorganisation.

City of Lincoln Council’s Labour leader councillor Ric Metcalfe updated his fellow councillors on the latest news around plans to bid for the second round of devolution by all Lincolnshire councils on Tuesday night.

The two issues of devolution and local government reorganisation are often conflated by people as being the same thing, but are different in a number of ways.

Under devolution, Lincolnshire’s councils, along with North and North East Lincolnshire, are bidding for a new overarching Greater Lincolnshire authority, likely lead by an elected mayor, which would allow them to take some control of some legislative power and funding from central government. Under this, the existing councils would continue as is.

However, Councillor Metcalfe warned of fears that there was “some talk” in government about the “possibility that those newly created combined authorities might start to draw up to themselves some of the current responsibilities of district councils.”

The worry is this could lead to the separate argument for local government reorganisation, which could see the existing seven district councils, including the county council, dissolved into one or more unitary councils.

“That’s one of the things all district councils need to be aware of, and indeed ready to make the case against, because that would turn combined authorities into stalking horses for county unitaries,” he said.

It followed a question from Conservative Hilton Spratt who said “too much power has been concentrated in the centre,” adding the pandemic had demonstrated “the local council were able to deliver for local people to local needs”.

Following the meeting, Councillor Metcalfe told Local Democracy Reporters that district councils “keep reasserting that we’re very happy to cooperate if it benefits our total area, with a combined authority, and we’ll even swallow this crazy idea of a directly elected mayor, if it will give us some more powers to do things that we can’t currently do.

“Obviously we’re looking for the benefits, but we are also very guarded, obviously about this being used as a stalking horse to reorganise local government in a way that wouldn’t be acceptable to us.”

“We know our local area, we’re close to it, we know how to respond and organise services on the ground.

“Big county councils, big unitary authorities are very remote but we’re close to the ground… we serve our local communities extremely well and we’d like to keep it that way.”

Councils were disappointed to have not been involved in the latest round of deals announced in February.

Invites instead went to Cornwall, Derbyshire & Derby, Devon, Plymouth and Torbay, Durham, Hull & East Yorkshire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire & Nottingham, and Suffolk.

However, bosses have previously said they remain committed to the next bid, expected sometime next year.