The main debating chamber at Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) resembled a game of ‘Deal or No Deal’ on Thursday, with a £15 million-a-year prize at stake.
That was the amount offered by the Government if LCC, along with nine other authorities across Lincolnshire, accepted the terms of devolution.
With the Government, specifically Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid, playing the role of ‘The Banker’, 65 LCC members had the chance to ‘take the walk of wealth’ and accept a £450 million, 30-year deal.
But when it came to The Banker’s offer, with the ‘strings attached’ of a 12-member authority headed by a Greater Lincolnshire Mayor, LCC said ‘No Deal’ by a two-to-one majority (43 to 17, with five abstentions).
Coun Susan Wray, LCC member for Donington Rural, said: “I voted No because while the deal may look good to many, there is no such thing as a free meal and we all learn this early in life.
“I believe in, and support, the principle of a Combined Authority for Greater Lincolnshire, with finance and responsibility being more accountable and closer to the area, along with the people it supports.
Although the vast majority are in favour of devolution in principle, the idea of one person – a directly elected mayor making strategic decisions on behalf of the whole Greater Lincolnshire area – is not supportedLincolnshire County Council leader Coun Martin Hill
“Of course, £450 million over 30 years is attractive and I am keen to see greater financial support for our very rural county.
“However, NOT with strings attached like ‘an enforced mayoral system’, especially if they were based in Scunthorpe for example.
“Would they really know the needs of the people in Gosberton Clough?
“Surely it’s more important for ten local authorities to work together in a joined-up, structured manner in order to reduce the tiers of governance and reflect the needs of our local communities – urban, rural, farming, industrial, fishing or leisure.
“Clearly Lincolnshire cannot function with yet another layer of governance but no indication has yet been made as to which level will be surplus to requirements.”
The origins of the move towards a Combined Authority in Greater Lincolnshire lie in the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014.
In an attempt to head off calls for independence from other parts of the United Kingdom, former Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans to “transfer power from Whitehall to local communities”.
After giving initial approval to an idea for a new Greater Lincolnshire Authority, LCC asked the people of Lincolnshire for their views on the idea of a Greater Lincolnshire Mayor.
By a very narrow majority, those who responded voted by 48.6 per cent to 46.7 per cent against the idea of a mayoral combined authority.
Coun Elizabeth Sneath, LCC member for Spalding Elloe, said: “Last Thursday, I voted in favour of the devolution deal recommendation because devolution could boost the local economy by millions of pounds.
“Like many others, I do have misgivings about having a mayor but, on balance, I feel the potential benefits of devolution for us in Lincolnshire outweigh the possible disadvantages.
“The devolution deal would have meant that we could make decisions on spending Government money in Lincolnshire, instead of having those decisions made for us in London.
“For example, we would be able to allocate the funding we receive for skills and further education in the county ourselves to ensure that it better matches our local needs.”
A Greater Lincolnshire Combined Authority would have control of transport across ten council areas, including the offer of bus service franchises, the ability to propose large developments and obtain land for housing and employment.
Coun Nick Worth, LCC member for Holbeach, said: “I voted for devolution and I was a strong advocate for it, leading the motion for it.
“For me, Lincolnshire has missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring in serious investment into the county over the long term.
“It would also have been an opportunity to negotiate further deals that could have benefited enhanced engineering, manufacturing, agri-food, infrastructure, skills and substantial sums for housing.
“While few people wanted an elected mayor, it was a pill I was prepared to swallow for the greater good of Lincolnshire and its future economy.
“But clearly the majority didn’t agree.”
The final decision on whether the devolution deal goes ahead rests with LCC leader and member for Folkingham Rural, Coun Martin Hill.
But the ‘Deal or No Deal’ vote on Thursday was best summed up by Coun Nigel Pepper, LCC member for Crowland and Whaplode, who said: “I was irrevocably undecided on the matter and abstained – not a decision I took lightly.
“While additional funding and devolved powers appealed to me, and would have been welcomed, the prospect of having a mayor, associated entourage and costs did not.”
Following the vote on Thursday, Lincolnshire County Council leader Martin Hill said: “The vote and debate among county councillors sends a clear message.
“Although the vast majority are in favour of devolution in principle, the idea of one person – a directly elected mayor making strategic decisions on behalf of the whole Greater Lincolnshire area – is not supported.
“I need to talk with the Government once again but unless anything changes significantly, we won’t be able to take this forward.
“I also still need to see the final Order from the Government, with the finalised detail of the deal, before I make a decision.
“But as it stands, major changes would be needed to the draft Order.”