Comment from Marianne Overton MBE, Leader of the Lincolnshire Independents and of Independent Group at the Local Government Association

More conservative lunacy ?– first we had the elected PCC and now they are proposing an elected Mayor? What next?

The Lincolnshire “Devo Deal” adds bureaucracy and cost, for little gain to Lincolnshire.

This is a new tax-raising layer of bureaucracy. This deal sells Lincolnshire short and we are not buying it.

I am concerned about the move towards a new additional layer of Government, called a combined authority announced today. Lincolnshire is a great County, and one we need to fight for, big time. On the Local Government Association, I am one of five in the Country, fighting for better funding for our Councils.

We have an increasing number of Independent Councillors, doing a great job in their Councils and for residents. In Lincolnshire, we have in Boston and South Kesteven Independent Councillors in Leadership, successfully running our Councils, listening and inclusive. But not all District Councils will have a seat at the new table. Indeed their vote is not even needed to create a “combined” authority.

A new Combined Authority for the whole of Lincolnshire, North and North-East Lincolnshire, around 7,000 sq.km, from Stamford to Scunthorpe is too big. The Local Government Association (LGA) has provided two pieces of professional investigation into the impact of combined authorities, called “Bigger is not Better”. (Link) and the update “Bigger is still not better”. (Link) We should take notice.

Performance is shown not to be better in these large authorities covering many miles, but democracy is reduced. Power over a very large area is difficult to influence democratically, and the Government sets the rules to support “growth regions”, such as in North and North-east Lincolnshire. That would pull our resources out of our county area.

Savings are little more than reducing local services, as we can make those anyway by working across our councils. Our current system has local authorities of a size to match the size of their job. We make savings and avoid duplication by Joint working in local partnerships. We have a shared front door in Fixmystreet.com so easy for people to approach.

This is a new layer of bureaucracy on top of the current levels, with the associated costs and a Mayor who also raises an additional tax.

This feels like the thin edge of the wedge. How long will it be before all our services are centralised in the name of “efficiency”. An efficiency that has shows no evidence of ever being achieved. We are told this is just another authority being created without reducing the other layers, at this stage. Because of the huge areas a mayor will cover, it is a tough call for anyone who wants to directly connect with residents.

Our Councils need more money, and this proposal spends much more on bureaucracy; £2m just to set up the new authority.

Two out of three constituent authorities, are from the North and North-east. That area, with lost industries, could easily become the focus of the new organisation, rather like the current “red wall” areas. In terms of funds, Lincoln has benefitted significantly in money for new roads, demonstrating to me that a swing seat is far more important than what is supposed to be a “devolution deal”. The promised money, with strings, no doubt, is small compared to the total needed. But this ties us to dance more directly  to the Government’s tune, in a contract or “deal”.

It is worth noting, that the current County revenue Budget is £1.1bn, £544m without schools. Plus the other nine Council budgets. That is what it takes to run local services. Then there is the capital money for schools and roads. The £24m offered between ten Council areas does  not go very far and Government sets the rules. It may well be focussed on the areas that can grow the fastest, such as Immingham and the new free port. It looks like a “bung” that will leave rural Lincolnshire short-changed again.

Is it really extra money? I think not. There is £36bn due to our regions from the failed HS2 Extension. That should come to our councils, not to some new body, just set up.

New tax-raising Mayor

Having an elected PCC has done nothing for us in extra funding. We are still languishing at the very bottom, the worst funded in the country, but with a further 2,000 asylum seekers expected. I cannot see how having an elected Mayor will make the slightest difference, except to our pockets.

We see this Government sending funds to densely populated urban areas, like Manchester or Birmingham, where they hope to make the most “growth”. Just creating a Mayor does not create a Birmingham, here is Lincolnshire. Like so much that has come out of Government lately, this proposal is ill-considered. Last time the question of Mayor went to public consultation, the public said “no”, with 40% strongly against. Even if they change the question, I hope tax-paying residents will make their views known loud and clear.

Cllr Marianne Overton MBE

07920 235 364

Further information:

The Independent Group report is here. It also shows a significant loss for Independents who rely on connections with local people. Thus the bigger the area, the more residents have to rely on the national parties seen on TV. The LGA lost over 500 councillors at the last election, as their seats were dissolved.

The cross-party District Councils Network, part of the LGA, also had a report done, and an update which is here. Its called “Bigger is still not better” by Professor Colin Copus.

The suggestion previously considered by our councils failed, but discussion seems to be back. Previously led by Cllr Martin Hill Conservative Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, the plan to is to set up a new combined authority on top of our current Councils, taking areas such as Transport (currently under County Council) and Skills (Adult Education currently run by Colleges).  This is planneed to be a full local authority, with audit, a number of committees, scrutiny – the lot, it is a huge undertaking for just a few services. In addition it has an elected Mayor. Last time the public was consulted on a Mayor, 40% were strongly against and the majority voted against a Mayor. (page 23) County Council was going ahead in 2016, but it collapsed at the last moment and was rejected.

If intended as a weak Mayoral model, the three “constituent” authorities would have a veto, preventing Mayoral action. The three constituent members to be set in legislation are Lincolnshire, North and North-east Lincolnshire. District Councils are legally not included, so any few District Councils are there by grace and favour. (Four out of seven would be the minimum votes to be able to say the Districts have supported it.)

Experience elsewhere in the Country, such as Cornwall and Northampton, is that any gain is quickly lost in the additional bureaucracy and promised powers, such as a local tourist tax, have not arrived.

A Chief Exec of another organisation requires a bigger salary and the lower levels are then also upgraded. If savings are what is wanted, there is nothing to stop us working across councils with shared services, as some of our councils currently choose to do for strategic planning, legal services, pensions and benefits.

I hope this food for thought will be of interest to you. Let me know what you think. There is a widespread belief that this is a trojan horse, with a new authority ready and waiting for the dissolution of the next two tiers. It seems to me to be better for us to keep our identity that we have worked so hard to build up in reputation, and then work together across authorities to make any efficiencies we reasonably can.

Marianne Overton MBE

Kind Regards,

 

Marianne

Councillor Marianne Overton MBE

Independent Councillor for Bassingham and Welbourn on Lincolnshire County Council

and for the Navenby and Brant Broughton on North Kesteven District Council

Leader of the Lincolnshire Independents and the Independent Network

Vice Chairman of the Local Government Association

www.lincolnshireindependents.org

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Published by Marianne Overton MBE, Hilltop Farm. Welbourn, Lincolnshire, LN5 0QH

Tel: 07920 235 364