It’s hard to see
Tricorns the length and breadth of historic Lincolnshire are gleefully being hurled aloft at the news that a new north/south divide is on the way – one that will see Lincolnshire split in the same way that the country as a whole has been since time immemorial.
The news in last week’s budget will mean that the ten councils in this area – Lincolnshire County Council, the seven districts and North and North East Lincolnshire – will combine with the Local Enterprise Partnership to form Greater Lincolnshire.
This in turn will see significant powers and funding transferred from government to local level – which optimists claim will bring in £15 million a year for infrastructure and other growth projects, and responsibility for a combined transport budget for at least four years.
It’s being claimed that this could boost the local economy by as much as £8bn, and create 29,000 new jobs and 100,000 extra homes
As you might expect, the great and the good are beside themselves with ecstasy.
Local MP Matt Warman – whom we sometimes think would welcome Charon if he opened a ferry service across the Witham – said that devolving power to Lincolnshire would “see more decisions taken locally and recognise the county’s fine independent-minded traditions.”
Think Henry VIII’s “most brute and beastly shire.”
Lincolnshire County Council leader Martin Hill declared that the combined authority would carry out the functions transferred from Whitehall “in a new spirit of partnership.”
That’s something we somehow doubt, and consider it most unlikely that after all these years, the respective leaders will suddenly disregard their specific interests in favour of singing from the all-Lincolnshire song sheet.
Meanwhile, Boston’s so-called leader ‘Nipper’ Bedford declares: “All of the themes in the deal give us huge opportunities but perhaps none more so than housing and transport.”
However, there are several slips ‘twixt cup and lip before this fairyland of fortune becomes a reality.
First, there will be a “public consultation” with all one million residents of the new, improved Jumboshire.
Cost? Who knows, but a million pounds must be a bare minimum.
Then, as with other devolved areas such as Manchester and Sheffield, the combined authority will have a directly elected mayor, elected in May next year.
Cost? Who knows, but again, a million pounds is the bare minimum again for a referendum, plus an undeclared salary. The closest idea so far would be based on the Police and Crime Commissioner role, which pays £65,000 in Lincolnshire alone.
Think at least £100,000 plus the cost of staff, offices etc, etc.
At least one local MP is unconvinced by all of this. Sir Edward Leigh, who represents Gainsborough, has warned that money could be sucked in to Grimsby, Scunthorpe and Lincoln from rural areas.
And who cannot imagine that this would be the case, as historic Lincolnshire is dominated by these three places.
And it takes little imagination to see Boston cast yet again in the diminutive role in this new set-up.
We are the smallest local authority by far in the new set-up, and our already disadvantaged status would demand much higher investment to achieve results that it would in other areas – which simply would not represent value for money.
Boston borough’s population is a meagre 6.5% of the proposed new devolved Lincolnshire – which means that its pro rata “share” of the new government money would be less than £1 million.
Somehow, it would not surprise us to seem Boston subsumed into either South Holland or East Lindsey as an early move that would save millions at the outset.
Whatever happens, Greater Lincolnshire will require new thinking by the constituent authorities that will make it up.
The combined authority cabinet is expected to be formed by the existing leaders of the ten constituent local authorities and chaired by the directly elected mayor – which raises another problem.
The Worst Street leadership – with ‘Nipper’ Bedford at the helm – has redefined the word ineptitude in the past five years.
A new-style of government requires a new style of leadership, and we think it a good idea if ‘Nipper’ thinks twice about leading Boston in a devolved Lincolnshire, and puts himself out to pasture.
If he won’t, then his party henchpeople should do his thinking for him.
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