MP Column - Council change

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Since the proposal to create a mayor for Lincolnshire in George Osborne’s last budget statement as chancellor there has been a flurry of ideas for changing our local government set-up.

I expressed my extreme wariness at the then-chancellor’s specific proposal, viewing it as setting the stage for abolishing our district councils and combining them into a single authority for all of Lincolnshire.

Local government is vitally important in delivering so many of our services, and the fact remains that West Lindsey District Council – while far from perfect – do a largely very good job. Our district councillors are much closer to the voters who represent them than our county councillors are, as of course they must be since they are elected for a smaller patch that is easier to cover. I am not totally opposed to changing our current system of local government, but I have made very clear that any changes should proceed only through the consent of the existing bodies.

Lincolnshire is a very large county, and only part of it is covered by the county council’s area. When county councils were first invented in the nineteenth century it was immediately understood that our country was too large to be covered by a single one, and so our equivalent of county councils were created to cover the three parts of Lincolnshire: Lindsey in the north, Kesteven in the south west, and Holland in the south east.

If anything, there is an argument in favour of abolishing the county council. Its current responsibilities could be handled by new specific combined authorities for things like schools or highways that would be responsible to the district councils with either a rotating chair or an independent chairman. But that’s just one idea among many. Subsidiarity – the concept that laws, policies, and decisions should be made as close as possible to the people and places that will be affected by them – should be an important guideline when we are looking at reforming our authorities.

Following the legal intrigues in the Supreme Court the Government took well-prepared and carefully executed action once the judges made clear that the Government required explicit parliamentary approval. The bill authorising this is making its way through the Commons as I write these words, and is admirable in both its brevity and simplicity.

Despite the dramatic and dire prognostications of media pundits – most of whom are dead keen to derail Brexit any which way they can – the Supreme Court’s ruling will not have any significant effect on the Government implementing the choice the British people made. The judges have added one more bureaucratic hurdle which will be overcome.

The Prime Minister is staying the course – unlike some other politicians, she is not one to change tack entirely because of a newspaper headline or a focus group’s opinion.

The people of the United Kingdom have made their wishes clear in a free and fair referendum, and so, in the fullness of time, we will be leaving the European Union.

Sir Edward Leigh MP

Gainsborough constituency