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County leader pushes for unitary referendum

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Lincolnshire CC will vote on whether to hold a referendum on the abolition of all eight councils in the county and establish a unitary system.

Lincolnshire leader Martin Hill (Con) has announced he will ask councillors to give approval for a poll on the same day as the local elections on 4 May.

Linclonshire chief executive Tony McArdle said the referendum would focus on the “principle” of whether to adopt a unitary system rather than propose a particular number of new councils.

He told LGC: “Ever since a two-tier system has been established there have been differences and friction.

“We are being open and honest and will ask the public whether they believe that the time is now right to look at an alternative and do you want us to enter into a unitary debate and then work up the options.”

Cllr Hill said the abolition of the county council and seven districts to create a new unitary system would save £150m over five years. That money, he said, could be reinvested in service improvement and keep council tax down.

Cllr Hill said: “The current system of councils in Lincolnshire is one we can no longer afford.

“A unitary model has successfully been adopted in many areas of the country and has proved to be simpler, better for services, more local and most importantly costs less to run.

“I believe the current system is complicated, wasteful and no longer financially sustainable. Without change, important local services are already being reduced and even cut entirely.”

Lincoln City Council leader Ric Metcalfe (Lab) accused the county of “acting like a rogue council doing its own thing” and insisted any move to create a single unitary would be “far too remote a tier of governance”.

He added: “We’re no longer in a situation where councils can go it alone so I think this is a very retrograde step by the county council.

“In recent years we’ve had a very collaborative approach with all the other councils in Lincolnshire, and so it is disappointing the county council has not consulted with the districts on a proposal that would affect us all.”

Cllr Metcalfe accused the county of being driven by its own financial position and the need to save money and warned district services could be compromised if resources were redistributed.

He added: “What is so disappointing is that this comes so quickly on the heels of the county council’s rejection of £450 million of government money for a devolution deal that would have placed us in a much better position to address the problems of the county.”

A devolution proposal to create a combined authority under an elected mayor was rejected by county members in October.

The referendum announcement comes as the Department for Communities & Local Government is expected to provide guidance on reorganisation proposals, following disputes in two-tier areas such as OxfordshireHampshire, and Northamptonshire.

The vote is due to take place at the next meeting of full council on 24 February.

This story was updated at 5.30pm on 24 January to include Cllr Ric Metcalfe’s comment.  

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