Wednesday, 23 March 2016

One Mayor to rule them

It was announced in the Budget (alongside the combination of additional tax reductions for the wealthiest and lower levels of benefits for the disabled, which finally made even Iain Duncan-Smith snap) that the whole of Lincolnshire is to have a single elected Mayor whose responsibilities will include transport, economic investment and flood defence.  The £450 million which is announced as the infrastructure investment bonus which goes with this appears to be spread over a thirty year period -  so may represent less than the £15 per head per year, which isn’t going to buy much infrastructure beyond repairing a pavement slab outside each house every few years. 

Given that the average political demographic of the whole of Lincolnshire is more conservative than of that of our local unitary authority of North East Lincolnshire, the person with executive power to decide between our transport needs and those of Stamford, our flood defence needs and those of the south Lincolnshire fens, our economic development needs and those of Boston, Lincoln, Skegness and the Wold’s market towns, is likely to be Conservative and is not likely to be local.

The ‘big idea’ in the late 1960s was that economic cohesion rather than culture and history should shape local government.  So in 1974, the northern strip of Lincolnshire and the southern strip of East Yorkshire either side of the Humber (the estuary which was actually the ancient divide between Mercia and Northumbria) were brought together to form a new county, one designed to promote the ports of the whole estuary as ‘an alternative gateway to Europe’ and bring in local prosperity.  But the Lincolnshire bit always feared that having the County Council based in Beverley and the largest chunk of population in the city of Hull meant that the ‘south bank’ would always be a poor relation, and hated the loss of the word ‘Lincolnshire’ quite as much as those on the ‘north bank’ hated the loss of the word ‘Yorkshire’.

For better or worse, Humberside only lasted twenty-two years, but during that time the ‘regionalisation’ of England became cemented in for EU, national Government and quasi-governmental activities; even after 1996, when I deal with things like what was called English Heritage or the Learning and Skills Council, it is to an office in Leeds I relate (for the Yorkshire and Humber Region) while my Lincolnshire colleagues even a short distance south outside what had been Humberside relate to offices in Nottingham (for the East Midlands Region).  This was one of the main reasons that none of South Humberside was ‘put back into Lincolnshire’ in 1996, but instead it was divided into the two ‘unitary authorities’ (mini-counties) of North Lincolnshire (centred on Scunthorpe) and North East Lincolnshire (just, Cleethorpes, Grimsby, Immingham and a few villages).

The new Mayor of Lincolnshire will have the whole of the historic county to which to relate, but the population he or she serves will be divided one third / two thirds between the two Regions.  Or, to put the same point another way, North East Lincolnshire will sometimes be looking north (when it is issues being dealt with on a regional basis) and south (when it is issues being dealt with by the Mayor) - and either way will be tucked away in one corner of the large area being dealt with.  And it is worth noting that the Cabinet the Mayor will chair will contain the Leaders of the ten local authorities from across Lincolnshire (only two from the South Humberside area with a third of the population) which would need a two-thirds majority to reject any of his or her decisions.

It is also worth noting in passing that potentially being ‘put back into Lincolnshire’ was always a cultural concept rather than an administrative one.  There wasn’t one Lincolnshire County Council in 1974.  Grimsby was a County Borough (the historic unitary authority structure of the time).  The rest of what became South Humberside (including Cleethorpes and the rural part of this parish) was part of the area served by Lindsey County Council.  Having any form of local government delivered for us on a whole Lincolnshire basis is actually quite novel.  We’ll have to see whether it is an arrangement which lasts twenty-two years.

Meanwhile, I’m really delighted to have the picture, sourced for me by Brian Ashwell, which is a wonderful link with the digging away of Toot Hill almost next door to me.  I notice that both the agent Jas. Martin & Co and the printer J.W. Ruddock and Sons are Lincoln firms (so the economic links with Lincoln are far from novel); Jas. Martin is at the same address and acts as agent for the Lincoln Diocesan Trust today (and the diocese is, of course, one historic body organised on a ‘whole Lincolnshire’ basis). 

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