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South Kesteven District Council leaders fear funding shortfall in Greater Lincolnshire Devolution Deal

Council leaders fear that potential devolution funding in Greater Lincolnshire will be 'little more than a drop in the ocean'.

An extraordinary full council session on Thursday saw South Kesteven District Council leaders criticise the Greater Lincolnshire Devolution Deal provisionally agreed between the Government and upper-tier authorities.

The deal is open for public consultation until January 29.

South Kesteven District Council examined the deal on Thursday.
South Kesteven District Council examined the deal on Thursday.

The region is set to gain devolved power and an additional £24 million annually, but with conditions, including a 2025 mayoral election.

Additional benefits comprise one-off funding, transport, and adult social budget details, with an extra £28.4 million investment in the first year.

However, SKDC leader, Richard Cleaver (Ind), said: “This is an important issue because it is something that is going to affect the future of all of us in Lincolnshire.”

“The sums of money on offer are not enough to do the job described in the proposal; that is one of the most telling points for me of all.”

“Those who are in favour are putting the idea out that this is going to be a great thing… all the aspirations are frankly little more than a drop in the ocean.”

Concerns were also raised about the lack of a direct question about the introduction of a county mayor.

He was backed by councillors, including Phil Dilks (Ind), who, while supporting devolution, felt the district councils had been excluded from negotiations.

The Mayoral Combined County Authority (MCCA) will oversee major projects but district councils, despite having four representatives, lack voting rights on the majority of matters.

“This proposal would result in us being governed by a directly-elected mayor from Scunthorpe rather than Stamford, nowhere close to my local communities,” he said.

He also raised concerns about the new mayor potentially levying taxes on the authority.

“I deeply regret that our residents have not been given a democratic say whether they support or reject the proposal to change the way that we are governed through the creation of an extra tier of government,” he said.

Other opposition members, including Philip Knowles (Ind), called the consultation “anti-democratic”.

In addition, there were concerns that SKDC and Lincolnshire County Council would be stopped from bidding for funds from central government schemes, fearing that only the mayor will be entitled to submit bids from Lincolnshire in the future.

Public opinion remains mixed, with residents calling for a referendum, expressing concerns over tax increases and questioning the deal's regional impact.

Coun Ashley Baxter (Ind) felt Greater Lincolnshire was “too big” for one person to tackle.

However, despite saying he did not favour a mayor Coun Paul Wood (Ind) said he felt the money was worth it.

“You’ve got to look at the deal in its entirety. Any deal is a deal,” he said.

“My worry is, if we don’t take this deal… I don’t want to be part of the East Midlands deal. Lincolnshire needs a better deal… of course I would like a better deal but that’s not the deal.

“I would take it, get the money we can and then push for more.”

Conservative Group leader Graham Jeal feared a referendum would cost at least £1 million.

He said devolution had been in progress since he moved to the area 14 years ago.

“This is not a perfect deal… there’s a lot wrong with it, a lot that can be improved…, but I believe in devolution,” he said.

“This is 10 years in the making, of course there are going to be compromises,” he added, noting there was a promise for £720 million over 30 years.

“[We need to] compromise for hundreds of millions of £s for Lincolnshire, Compromise so Lincolnshire can sit on the top table when demanding money and compromise so we can stop talking and get on with it,” he said.

“We can’t waste another 14 years tying ourselves in knots.”

Coun Mark Whittington (Con) also supported the deal, noting that approval of the 'tier three' deal would enable better deals in tiers 'four and five.'

Not all Tories were on board, however, with Coun Rosemary-Trollope Bellew (Con), also raising concerns.

“I do feel I am unsure whether this is a good deal for South Kesteven,” she told members.

“We have to remember that Lincolnshire is a very rural county. The mayors that currently do well are in urban areas so I’m unsure about whether this is a good idea for South Kesteven.”

Labour councillor Lee Steptoe was skeptical about devolution.

“It seems to me, once again, this is crumbs from the table, a sort of begging bowl which sets communities against each other for the scraps,” he said, noting a “level of bureaucracy” being bolted on,” he said.

“I have not met a single person that wants a mayor for Lincolnshire.

“This is not devolution; devolution is about passing power down to the lowest level, the lowest tier… this is a spin on that word,” he said.

He feared district councils faced being scrapped if the move led to local government reorganisation across Lincolnshire.

However, he felt the devolution deal was a fait accompli, noting that his own party probably wouldn’t even “tinker around the edges”.

Unlike 2016, Lincolnshire County Council now supports the deal, marking a pivotal moment; South Kesteven rejected it in 2016.

The Thursday report before councillors recommended collaborating with other district councils to prepare a report on establishing a joint committee.

This report will be presented to the council on February 29.

The Government aims to establish an order for the new arrangements by summer 2024, with the Mayoral County Combined Authority set to establish in late 2024 and the election of a Greater Lincolnshire Mayor in May 2025.

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