Devolution: So what does it mean for Lincolnshire residents?

The South Kesteven District Council chamber. EMN-150503-094514001
The South Kesteven District Council chamber. EMN-150503-094514001
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In his recent budget statement, Chancellor George Osborne announced important new powers and funding are to be passed from the Government to the Greater Lincolnshire area.

A devolution deal document has been agreed with Whitehall by all 10 local authorities from the Humber to The Wash.

Although all the councils will continue to exist in their current form, they will also come together to form a “combined authority” to exercise the new powers. The combined authority will also have its own elected mayor.

The funding and responsibilities will include transport, housing, skills training and flood-risk management. Further commitments are also agreed on health and social care, as well as court and prison services. The aim is to ensure local accountability, making the new body answerable to the one million people in Greater Lincolnshire.

The 10 local authorities involved are Lincolnshire County Council, North Lincolnshire Council, North-East Lincolnshire Council, City of Lincoln Council, Boston Borough Council and South Kesteven, West Lindsey, South Holland, East Lindsey, North Kesteven district councils.

Each council will have to formally agree the deal at their full council, following consultation with residents in the summer.

The combined authority will receive £15 million a year, for the next 30 years, for infrastructure projects to boost economic growth and will have responsibility for a devolved and consolidated, multi-year local transport budget for the entire combined authority area.

The funding will only be for new responsibilities and will not affect the current budget proposals recently agreed by each council.

In this special feature, we tackle the issues around devolution.

* What is devolution?

The Government is offering areas in England the chance to have greater responsibility and control over decisions and spending in their region.

* How do things currently work?

Currently, most spending decisions affecting the Greater Lincolnshire area are made by central Government. Many of the taxes raised locally flow back to central Government for it to redistribute.

* Why would areas want to have more powers and responsibilities?

• To focus spending on local priorities, and have more of a say over local taxation;

• To work together across services and use local knowledge to get better value;

• To be more self-sufficient and have more responsibility for the future of the local area;

• For decisions to be taken by locally-elected politicians working with their private sector partners on the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) who better understand local issues, and can be held to account locally.

* How do AREAS get these powers and responsibilities?

Individual councils cannot get these extra powers and resources on their own. The Government has been clear that to have the most powers and responsibilities devolved, places must:

• Be part of a joint body where decisions about these things would be take (technically called a combined authority);

• Have an elected mayor who would have responsibility over the powers and resources gained through a deal;

• Have an agreed arrangement by all the places involved, as well as central Government.

* What is an LEP?

LEPs (Local Enterprise Partnerships) are business-led partnerships of local businesses, local authorities and other partners to promote economic growth across a specific area. LEPs are overseen by the Secretaries of State for Business Innovation and Skills, and Communities and Local Government. LEPs can bid for Government funding.

* What is a combined authority?

Combined authorities are statutory bodies within which local authorities work together to deliver economic development, regeneration and transport functions.

* Doesn’t this create an extra tier of Government?

The combined authority cabinet will be formed by the existing leaders of the 10 local authorities and chaired by the directly-elected mayor. Devolution would primarily be about strengthening local arrangements, with greater democratic accountability and powers to take decisions. It should be more efficient and more effective.

* How will I benefit?

Because the combined authority is locally accountable, it will be motivated to deliver specifically to the people of Greater Lincolnshire. Money would be spent in ways that respond directly to the needs of the population, meaning more jobs, better roads and improved access to education.

* What will happen to local council services?

There will be no impact on council services, which will continue to be delivered by local councils.

* Why do we need a mayor to get devolved powers?

The Government states places need an elected mayor for devolution. An elected mayor would act to unite and work across the area, and be held to account for decisions made.

* What will the mayor and combined authority do?

A new, directly-elected mayor will act as chairman to the Greater Lincolnshire Combined Authority. They will not have any responsibility for existing councils. The mayor will exercise the following powers:

• Responsibility for a devolved multi-year local transport budget for the area;

• Ability to franchise bus services;

• Oversight of a new Joint Investment and Assets Board to review all public sector land and property assets and help unlock land for housing and employment;

• Ability to make proposals to help take forward large developments or new settlements.

Meanwhile, the new combined authority will receive the following powers:

• Control of a new additional £15 million a year funding allocation over 30 years, specifically for growth projects;

• Responsibility for developing a plan to identify the infrastructure needed to support the increased delivery of new homes;

• Responsibility for chairing an area-based review of 16+ skills provision and devolved 19+ adult skills funding from 2018/19;

• To help tackle long-term unemployment via the national Work and Health Programme;

• To move towards an arrangement for services for Greater Lincolnshire offenders serving short sentences;

• To work with the Government, Police and Crime Commissioners, prison governors and the Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC) to allow more local flexibility with other local services;

• To contribute to the outcomes from the Water Resources Study and the objectives set out in the resulting Water Management Plan.

In addition:

• The Government will work with the combined authority to agree specific funding flexibilities, to give it a single pot to invest in its economic growth.

* How will the new mayor work?

The mayor will chair the combined authority (CA) in his cabinet. The mayor and CA will be scrutinised and held to account by the GLCA Overview and Scrutiny committee(s) – in turn made up of the chairmen of scrutiny from each local authority in the area. The mayor will develop strategies with the CA.

• The cabinet will also examine the mayor’s spending plans and will be able to amend his/her plans, if two-thirds of the constituent members agree to do so;

• The Mayor will have one vote on the CA, as will other voting members;

• The Mayor will be a member of the Local Enterprise Partnership, alongside the other members of the CA.

* What if the mayor wants to do things that local leaders don’t agree with?

The mayor will need to consult the cabinet on their strategies and spending plans and it will have powers to reject decisions (if two thirds agree to do so).

* Who in Government will oversee the mayor?

Locally, the mayor will be held to account by voters every four/five years and the Greater Lincolnshire Overview and Scrutiny Committee. There will be five yearly “gateway assessments” by Government .

* Who will get to vote for the mayor?

Residents of Greater Lincolnshire (from the Humber to The Wash), in 2017.

* How much will the mayor be paid for the job?

No figures have yet been determined. There are currently no direct comparisons in existence.

* What role will the business community play?

Businesses have a critical role to play. The proposed mayor will be a member of the Greater Lincolnshire LEP alongside other members of the combined authority, recognising the importance of the private sector in leading the future of Greater Lincolnshire’s economy.

* How will this devolution make a difference?

It will give Greater Lincolnshire a dedicated resource for the long term and means it can invest in projects which will bring more business investment and more jobs to the local economy. The funding is vital for the Greater Lincolnshire economy because:

• It is a commitment for the long-term. A significant boost to future planning and will enable Greater Lincolnshire to have the right people and expertise to deliver the growth;

• Because funding will be available, the authority can borrow against it, attract private sector investment and fund major projects, such as new transport connections which can take years to build and therefore need funding committed for the long term.

* Hasn’t the deal already been signed?

Greater Lincolnshire has not formally committed to anything, only a heads of terms agreement with Government. It does not legally commit either side to anything. It was signed with the understanding of engagement with residents/businesses to find out their views. Once this is done they will seek to formalise the next stage of the process.

* Is this an end-point for devolution?

The authority will continue to negotiate for further powers and resources – in the consultation questions the public will be asked about things they may wish to see local control over.