Grantham councillors concerned move to a unitary authority could damage the town

Leader of Lincolnshire County Council Coun Martin Hill.
Leader of Lincolnshire County Council Coun Martin Hill.
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Councillors in Grantham have voiced their concerns over any moves towards a unitary authority for Lincolnshire and say a town council is essential if it happens.

This week the Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, Coun Martin Hill, said he wanted a poll of the county’s residents to be conducted on whether or not they want a unitary authority which he says would be of great benefit.

But local councillors say such an authority would be a major threat to Grantham which has little in the way of a local voice because it has no town or parish council. A unitary authority would replace the county council and seven district councils in the county.

Coun Hill has called for the poll to take place at the same time as the local elections in May.

Grantham Conservative district councillor Ray Wootten said: “If the proposal to create a Unitary Authority is successful, it is vital that a town Council for Grantham is created to ensure that local people have control over their own destiny.”

The leader of the Labour Group on South Kesteven District Council said Grantham could be left without a voice in any move towards a unitary authority and if one was installed.

Coun Charmaine Morgan said: “Grantham will be particularly vulnerable to change. The absence of a Town Council means we will have little collective voice in any debate regarding how a future unitary authority should look and how it may affect us locally. We are considering re-launching the Town Council Campaign in light of this news.

“As both a local District and County Councillor I am aware that Government budget cuts have put huge pressure on local authorities. The proposal put forward by LCC Leader Martin Hill reflects this. However, it raises a number of concerns.

“It is not clear what we would actually be voting for. The final say will not be made locally but by the Secretary of State and Parliament with input from Lincolnshire’s local authorities, who are likely to have conflicting views. Although there may be some benefits with some key services coming together, such as housing and social care, there may also be serious ramifications should changes occur with other local services, jobs and local council assets being put at risk, especially given the stated aim is to make cost savings. It is not yet clear where the stated savings will come from. Each structure has pros and cons and associated costs. The options should be thoroughly examined in public so informed decisions can be made. A simple Yes or No question seems inadequate in the circumstances.”

While concerns were raised locally, Grantham MP Nick Boles said he was strongly in favour of the idea.

Mr Boles said: “I have always believed that having both district and county councils operating in the same area as parish and town councils wasted money and confused voters. Maybe it could be justified when there was lots of money to go round but now that local government services face painful cuts to get the deficit down such duplication is no longer acceptable. I strongly support Martin Hill’s proposal for a referendum on the question. I am very keen to hear from constituents with their views about the plan and especially interested to know if they believe we should have one, two or more unitary councils to replace the current structure of seven overlapping districts and one county.”