Greater Lincolnshire devolution is on the horizon – and South Holland District Council leader Nick Worth outlines his views amid key talks on the future of the area
A major overhaul of the political map is looming - but South Holland’s leader has vowed to push for a deal that doesn’t sideline the south of the county.
Devolution talks have been under way in recent years - with hope for a deal for ‘Greater Lincolnshire’ to be prepared by October, followed by a consultation in January with a view to the first elected mayor being chosen in 2025, during the next county elections.
The move is likely to prove controversial - and has prompted concerns in the past over the way in which a new arrangement is drawn up, the role of a mayor as a figurehead and the likelihood of decisions for this area being dominated by Lincoln or even further afield.
District leader Nick Worth said: “My personal concern is that I have never had an issue with elected mayors but it does create another layer of government. The Government will say it doesn’t but clearly it does.
“If I were a member of the public I would be saying ‘why do we need another layer of government?’”
A new ‘combined authority’ - a body over the top of councils led by a mayor - would be created for the area currently covered by Lincolnshire County Council, North Lincolnshire Council and North East Lincolnshire Council.
It would represent 1.1 million people and bring the likes of Grimsby and Scunthorpe in with the current county council area.
However, the debate rests on who would get a seat at the table. One version is that Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire are represented - but Coun Worth is less keen on this and would push for an alternative.
In this version, the current county area would be split into three separate ‘unitary’ councils - with South Holland’s partnership with Boston and East Lindsey being a possible such authority.
Unitaries have powers over all council functions - unlike the current split of responsibilities between the county and district council here. In theory, this could spell the end of the county and district councils.
However it looks, the combined authority would have extra powers and funding. The figures are not known but a Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire deal will get an extra £38 million a year - with Lincolnshire likely to get less than this.
Coun Worth says the partnership arrangement is already bringing in more than this through external funding - with £20 million for the Castle Sports Complex revamp alone.
He said: “Devolution per se is not something I am against if it brings more money into the county - that’s got to be good - but the sorts of amounts they are talking about are not massive, although you’d get them over a long period of time.”
He added: “I am not saying I wouldn’t want it to happen. What they are proposing is as reasonable a deal as we have seen so far.
“Obviously I am concerned about the erosion of our own powers.
“People in the south of the county will be thinking ‘how are we going to get stuff out of there?’. It’s not easy getting stuff out of the county, let alone a combined authority.”
He said the authority would need offices in this part of Lincolnshire, adding: “The county has always been pushing for a single unitary authority. My own view is that’s way too big. People can’t relate to something as big as that.
“If there was a combined authority I would rather go down another route and be in control of our own destiny and have a stronger voice at the table.
“My job is trying to protect people in South Holland and get the best possible services.
“Devolution is starting to look like a train that’s going to be hard to stop . We will be pushing for local government review on the back of that.”
He said a change to unitary councils could actually mean a reduction in councillors - which may be popular among the public but could require ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’.
It’s a big topic - but one that the public are not always as engaged in.
Is Coun Worth worried that we will be lumbered with a bad deal?
He accepted the topic is ‘scary’ for many district leaders but insisted: “I think it’s an opportunity. For me it’s always about improving services and how we provide the best service to people whether that’s district or county or unitary.
“It shouldn’t make any difference to people because the services should still be as good or hopefully better.
“People shouldn’t be worried about it - but inevitably what will happen with a combined authority is that people will focus on the mayor.”
It’s thought that talks later this month are likely to shape whether and how the plans progress further.
Coun Martin Hill, leader of Lincolnshire County Council, recently confirmed to that discussions had recommenced after the May local elections.
Coun Hill told local democracy reporters: “Now that the elections are over and purdah has finished, conversations have restarted with government about a potential devolution deal for Greater Lincolnshire which could potentially have agreement this year with a mind for a mayoral election in 2025.
“If things go reasonably well, reports will be presented to this council with progress and a potential deal that can be submitted to the government.”