Would the quality of local government be improved if the 10 existing councils linked up to form a Greater Lincolnshire Combined Authority led by an elected Boris-type mayor with executive powers plus his or her own cabinet and officers?
At a special meeting of East Lindsey District Council such a prospect met with an overwhelmingly negative response from members – especially after they read the paperwork outlining in what might be on offer.
Although the proposed new body would have increased powers, plus a budget of at least £15-million a year for the next 30 years, much of the income could be swallowed up in the bureaucracy required by an additional layer of local government, it was feared.
“I am in favour of partnerships, but this looks like someone is trying to sell us a duck,” declared Coun Sarah Dodds, who went on to warn that some of the powers might ultimately be ‘pulled back to Whitehall’.
Coun Terry Knowles described the proposal document as being ‘heavy on fine words and sentiments but almost empty of meaningful content’. He continued: “I am not at all impressed – the creation of an elected mayor would simply provide an easy blame channel when things go bump as I am sure they would.”
Coun Adam Grist applauded the work done by council leader Coun Craig Leyland and chief executive Stuart Davy in working with their counterparts on other councils to come up with a proposal document.
He expressed particular satisfaction at the stronger ties forged with the authorities serving North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire because many East Lindsey businesses have trading links with firms on the Humber Bank.
But he said the document resulted in more questions than answers. “There are other ways of transforming local government,” he insisted. “I have a gut feeling that this is not right – it seems like an attempt to foist a metropolitan solution on a shire county.”
Also critical was Coun Stephen Palmer who demanded: “How much will this cost? Is the drive for a new authority coming from the people of Lincolnshire or from the Government? Why should we have forced on us something we don’t want?”
Further misgivings were sounded by Coun Steve Kirk though he noted that some county residents ‘might welcome the opportunity both to make decisions locally and to prise some financial controls from the grubby mitts of Westminster’.
On Thursday, the council agreed by 39 votes to nil, with four abstentions, that, later this summer, the issue should be out to consultation with the public
“We need to seek the views of electors,” said the leader who likened his own position to that of a used car salesman in discussion with a prospective customer. “It looks good, but, whatever you do, don’t look under the bonnet,” he quipped.