It was an immense relief to see Lincolnshire County Council vote down the proposal to create a mayor for Greater Lincolnshire. This plan is poorly thought out and would add another expensive and complex layer of local government that is totally unnecessary and, I would argue, counterproductive. Our district councillors and county councillors work hard to represent their neighbours and during a time when the budget belts have been tightened they have been forced to make very difficult decisions about services.
I am a firm believer in localism and subsidiarity. This means that decisions should be made closest to the people who will be most affected by them. In our part of the world, that means the district councils. But the creation of a mayor for Greater Lincolnshire would set an obvious trajectory which I fear would lead to the abolition of our district councils and the transfer of their powers elsewhere. I would oppose that development strenuously just as I oppose this proposal.
Even the title of mayor is totally inappropriate. Mayors are for towns and cities, whereas Lincolnshire is a largely rural county which is one of the great agricultural powerhouses of Great Britain. But it is headline grabbing as plans for the consolidation of local government in various cities in the north of England is considered and progresses. We simply can’t take a model that works for Manchester and arbitrarily apply it to Greater Lincolnshire.
The creation of another layer of local government is meant to be sweetened by the promise of extra funding to be distributed through the mayor’s office. But this will be partly negated by the fact that local authorities will be expected to make a contribution from their already straitened budgets towards the budget of the mayor’s office. This is far from a model of sleek efficiency in delivering services.
As central government’s funding of local authorities has understandably declined, any further funds for our communities are of course welcome. If the civil service mandarins in Whitehall would like to distribute this on a Greater Lincolnshire basis, rather than divvying it up amongst the various councils of the area, there are far better ways of going about it.
My proposal was that we set up a board composed of delegated members of each local authority who meet under the chairmanship of an independent non-politician, perhaps a local businessman or some such figure. They can then determine amongst themselves how this extra funding should be divided up amongst the local authorities, based on the priorities of Greater Lincolnshire as a whole.
As the County Council has rejected the mayor idea, I was hoping this proposal would be dead in the water. But it doesn’t want to die a natural death, and some are still trying to see it is enacted in the hope that those local authorities who are against it now can be brought along to support it later on. On this, as on so many issues, the fight is not yet over.
The reform of local government is a realm ripe with hazards for those who wish to approach it. Some of my readers will recall the complete overhaul of local government that took place in 1974 during the premiership of Edward Heath. This involved some sensible changes but also enforced upon us unwanted and unwise creations like the entirely fake counties of ‘Humberside’ by us and ‘Avon’ down in the West Country. They were enacted in the very worst spirit of the ‘Whitehall knows best’ mentality, and local people were barely consulted at all.
As someone of a philosophically conservative mind, I would always prefer to give the local opinion the benefit of the doubt over the supposedly clever bureaucrats and civil servants in London. It’s not that they don’t mean well – they really do hope to improve things – but being stuck in their departments in Whitehall they all too often they lack the insight and knowledge that comes from decades of experience in our counties, districts, towns, and villages.
I am very supportive of plans to shift power away from London and back in the hands of more local authorities. So I very much welcome the Chancellor’s plans for a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ reinvigorating the economy and civic spirit of cities and council areas too long neglected. We here in the East Midlands will not remain untouched by these reforms. There are proposals to devolve powers to a new body for Greater Lincolnshire. Whether it’s plans for accelerating economic growth, improving our transport links, or joining up public services, there are plentiful arguments in favour of giving this proper due consideration.
What is vital is the matter of consent. While we can all pick a significant qualm or two (the plan for libraries, for instance), Lincolnshire County Council is generally well run and popular. In our discussions in the House of Commons, I have spoken and made multiple interventions seeking to emphasise that unitary authorities must not be imposed from above without the consent and approval of local county and district councils. We do not want to destroy the significant local links that currently exist, nor should we, in a rush for change and innovation, ride roughshod over what local people and local councillors want. All the same, opportunities do exist, and they should be fully explored to see how we can make things better for people across Lincolnshire.
Christmas is probably the most beloved time of the year. It is a time for families and friends to come together. With the end of the year approaching, it is an apt time to take stock of the changes we’ve seen in the past twelve months. Most importantly, it is a time for remembering the birth of the Saviour and reflecting on our own little spot in the great chain of being.
I would like to wish all my constituents here in our part of Lincolnshire a very happy and blessed Christmas, with the hope for a fruitful year to come.
The Chancellor’s recent budget has demonstrated that the Conservative Government is committed to ensuring the whole country, whether here in Lincolnshire or deep in the City of London, enjoys the fruits of steadily improving economic prosperity.
Recently released figures show that real wages have grown at their fastest rate since 2007, with almost two million more people enjoying the security of a job since we returned to government in 2010. In this year alone, employment has increased by 265,000 while those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance is down 240,200 since a year previous and down 657,000 since 2010.
Even when we look at the figures for potentially more vulnerable categories, there has been a marked improvement. The number of young people without a job has dropped by 184,000 since 2010 while youth unemployment rose 82% in Labour’s last term in office. As for the proportion of the potential workforce claiming unemployment benefits, it is now at its lowest level since 1975. Pensioners have seen their state pension increased by £950, giving them a bit more help to enjoy their retirement in dignity and security.
While Labour claim the increase in employment is through part-time jobs, a look at the facts simply doesn’t bear this out. Over three-quarters of these new jobs since 2010 are full-time and the most comprehensive measure of living standards again shows they are higher now than in 2010 with the average household £900 better off than before.
More than 1,000 jobs have been created every day since we kicked Labour out of Downing Street in 2010 and Conservative MPs are working hard to make sure this momentum continues. We want to deal with the national debt by reducing the deficit in order to safeguard the economy and preserve the low mortgage rates we enjoy. We want to help working families and individuals to become more financially secure by cutting their income tax and continuing helpful acts like the fuel duty freeze. We especially want to promote small businesses, who are helping drive the economic recovery, through investment in useful infrastructure and lowering job taxes.
And in order to help the next generation, we are delivering on changes in education to ensure pupils are taught the skills they need to get ahead. Labour were happy to shove young people into Mickey Mouse degree courses in order to fudge the unemployment statistics, whereas now the University Technical Colleges are providing real training opportunities that will help young people to get ahead. We’ve created 2.3 million apprenticeships already and are planning to create three million more.
There is still much more to be done, whether around the country or here in Lincolnshire. We need to see better results on our roads, our policing, and our health services here in the constituency. Members of Parliament from across Lincolnshire are meeting regularly and keeping in touch to ensure we are working together for better funding, enhanced results, and demonstrable improvements in this the greatest and finest of all England’s counties.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s recent Autumn Statement set out to update the nation on progress since he announced his budget in April. From the outset when the results of the general election forced us into a coalition with the Lib Dems, we knew there would be many difficult decisions to be made.
As I’ve said repeatedly, I don’t agree with everything George Osborne has done. For example I have consistently stated that he needs to take much more radical steps to simplify our tax system, the overly complex nature of which is inherently biased against individuals, working families, and small businesses. I was very happy, though, that the Government finally agreed to my repeated urgings to recognise marriage in the tax system, and plans are going ahead to introduce a marriage tax allowance (however modest it may be to start with).
Difficulties and imperfections aside, George Osborne’s long-term economic plan is working. Read the rest of this entry »
The result of the European elections gives even further impetus to our drive to change our relationship with the European Union. It is obvious that voters are animated about Europe but they feel they are struggling to have their voices heard. Readers doubtless know that I am an opponent of all Euro-centralisation and my speeches in the House of Commons as well as my voting record attest to that. But even more than stopping the loss of any further powers, we need to win back powers that have already been ceded to Brussels.
This Government have made significant progress in putting the country back on track in many ways, especially with regard to the economy. Instead of headline grabbing measures, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has been making a great many difficult decisions which have provided the foundations for a stable recovery. I have been vocal that there is more to be done. Read the rest of this entry »
Things are heating up regarding the Hemswell Cliff wind farm appeal. As you are probably aware, West Lindsey District Council very sensibly refused the planning application for a wind farm owing to the very broad and deep-seated opposition which local residents and others expressed. RWE have now launched an appeal seeking to have the decision overturned.
I have written to Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, outlining our concerns over the wind farm, pointing out its adverse effect on the local environment, the threat to historical sites nearby, and the high potential of damage to as yet unexcavated archaeological remains. I also pointed out the potential impact on air traffic control, given the proximity of RAF bases and Robin Hood Airport.
Most of all, it is vital that decisions on planning permission for projects of such a high impact be made by local district councils and in alignment with the feeling of local people. I know Eric is very keen to ensure that local decision-making remains the ordinary practice, and that double-guessing local planning decisions will be the extraordinary exception, not the rule. Read the rest of this entry »
The news that there are now more Britons in employment than ever before in the history of our country is encouraging. We have also experienced the highest quarterly fall in unemployment since 1997, with the number of those claiming the jobseekers allowance having fallen for fourteen months in a row.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer’s economic policy has not been one of headline-grabbing cure-alls: he’s pursued a pragmatic approach in putting our economy back on track. These recently announced figures give us hope that his line of attack is working. While we’re not in the clear yet, Britain is turning a corner, and this is testament to the difficult decisions which this government is making.
Apart from the slow but steady economic turnaround, I hope that the most important and long-lasting legacies of this government will be localism. Subsidiarity – the idea that power should be located as close as possible to the people affected by it – is one of the most important political principles to remember. Over the past few decades far too many decisions affecting us in Lincolnshire have been made arbitrarily by unfamiliar bureaucrats in Whitehall or – even worse – Brussels.
It’s heartening, then, to witness local people taking the future in their own hands and influencing the decision-making process. The planning committee of West Lindsey District Council has been admirably and commendably responsive to the protests raised by local residents (including myself) to the plague of wind turbines which certain energy companies have sought to blight our landscape with. One of them sneakily made an application just before Christmas, no doubt hoping we would all be distracted by the holiday season. The hue and cry was raised, however, and I understand the application has been withdrawn, thus adding Waddingham to the long list of villages and towns which have seen off the wind farm menace – so far.
Overdevelopment is a continual concern, and we need to be very cautious when thinking about approving the construction of large sets of houses which may alter the order and tranquillity of our villages and towns. The Prime Minister’s recent announcement of shale gas incentives mean we have yet another concern to address. As I’ve written before, I’m not opposed to “fracking” in principle. It has the potential to unlock a massive energy resource for the nation, with the hope of significantly reducing monthly bills. Nevertheless, we must consider the specifics not the generalities. The companies which seek to extract shale gas here in our part of the country must make their case to us directly.
It is only right that we be concerned for the potential environmental impact of both construction and operation of shale gas extraction through fracking. If they fail to convince local residents, then planning committees must respond to our concerns and refuse the applications. No development – whether fracking or housing or wind turbines – should be approved over the wishes of the people who will have to put up with its consequences: local democracy must come first.
We have had a very thorough-going debate on the European Union (Referendum) Bill. The bill seeks to give voters a say over the relationship this country has with Europe and specifically over our membership of the European Union. We in the Conservative Party are now committed to giving people that referendum, which would be our first on the subject since 1975. The other parties are saying they are in favour of a referendum if any more significant transfers of power from Britain to Brussels occur, though they never do define what they mean by significant.
In the debate, I intervened to point out that it is clear that we want to be able to control our own borders, fishing, agriculture, and courts, and we want to stop small businesses being hit by ever more regulation. I kept goading the Labour members opposite, trying to find out if they would support even just the idea of giving voters a referendum on membership. From every Labour MP I asked, the answer I received was a model of evasion, avoiding the question and dodging the issue. “Of course, we are in favour of a referendum in principle…” But if we in Parliament do not translate principles into practice, we risk further deepening of the divide between the government and the people. Read the rest of this entry »
Readers know that the preservation of our beautiful countryside here in Lincolnshire is one of my absolute priorities. I’ve written in this newspaper about a wide variety of issues we need to be concerned about in Lincolnshire. This has ranged from the unsightly and unsustainable wind farms to more subtle issues like planning for future development and the potential dangers involved therein. We need to be on guard to protect our way of life, our natural environment, and to ensure that we continue to provide a liveable setting for ordinary working families and individuals.
That is why I have cautioned a prudent approach to development, lest we overload our already stressed infrastructure and overstretch our local resources. There is another issue which I suspect we will be confronted with more and more often in the coming year or so: hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’. Fracking is the process of using hydraulic drills to dig deep within the earth to gain access to (usually) petroleum or natural gas. Read the rest of this entry »
We have been lucky here in Lincolnshire to be free of bovine tuberculosis, which has greatly affected the farming sector in other parts of the country. Since the 1980s, the level of bovine TB occurring in this country has been steadily on the rise, with the number of cases doubling every nine years. This disease has cost the taxpayer £500 million over the past decade, so it is absolutely necessary that the government take the appropriate actions to ensure the spread of the disease is halted, that bovine TB outbreaks are isolated, and that the disease is eventually eliminated.
Bovine TB spreads very easily through the badger population whether through direct contact, remote contact, or even through the air. This means that in order to control the spread of this disease to our cattle, we must take action regarding badgers. We all know that badgers are lovely cuddly creatures of which we are fond. We easily think of Mr Badger, that trusty friend of Mole and Ratty from The Wind in the Willows, or of Tommy Brock from Beatrix Potter. But agriculture is arguably the most important sector of the British economy, and we cannot make decisions to stop the spread of disease amongst livestock based on romantic notions of talking animals from our childhood stories.
While far from ideal, a badger cull is now necessary to prevent the spread of bovine TB. The government is also investing in research towards developing an oral vaccine against bovine TB for badgers, but it is still many years away. In the mean time, pilot badger culls will take place this summer in TB hotspots. Even so, culling is just one part of a larger strategy to deal with bovine TB. Herds are tested annually in high-risk areas, and any infect animals are removed, while restrictions on cattle movement have been strengthened. Just because the disease hasn’t reached us in Lincolnshire doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be on guard, and the government’s response has been both vigilant and appropriate. Read the rest of this entry »
When this Government was elected, the Secretary of State for Works & Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, launched a massive overhaul of the way benefits are distributed in this country. Right now, a claimant receives each benefit through different agencies depending on the nature of the benefit. This results in waste and inefficiency on the part of the departments involved. Through the Universal Credit, claimants will receive a single payment from the government for whichever benefits they are entitled to.
Furthermore, benefits will be reformed to ensure that every able-bodied claimant who can work is always financially better off working instead of on benefits. Over the long term, we hope this will change the entire culture of benefits in this country, so that taxpayers here in Lincolnshire know that we are concentrating on spending their money on those who need it most.
This week will also see the year’s budget unveiled in the House of Commons. I have been pressuring the Government to ensure the Treasury focuses on providing immediate relief for hard-working families, but we also can’t abandon dealing with the massive deficit inherited from the previous government. Read the rest of this entry »
Many readers will have been affected by the recent rush of wind farm planning applications, such as those at Hemswell Cliff and Corringham near Gainsborough. I have been heartened by the recent rejection of the application for the Normanby by Spital proposal. The latest application is in Osgodby parish, within the bounds of the thousand-year-old Kingerby estate, flanked by ancient woodland. Here the wind farm industry proposes to build a 67-metre-high turbine – the top just a few feet lower than the Church of All Saints, the famous “Ramblers’ Church”, in Walesby.
Walkers along the Viking Way, in our splendid Wolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, will be able to look it in the eye as it stands a few miles away, standing hauntingly over the fields like some sort of H.G. Wells alien nightmare. The wind there is particularly fickle and unreliable, far below the norm for an efficient wind turbine, and so a single wind turbine will not be enough to make it feasible for the proposers. Instead, there will be a whole group of 67-metre-high turbines with their blades cutting across the blue sky. The way to Kingerby Church, noted by Simon Jenkins in his England’s Thousand Best Churches, will be overshadowed by these often useless and before long rusting monsters, standing where the heron used to fly. As the visitor to Kingerby church turns back to look towards Lincoln Cathedral, its profile will be marred by their great swinging blades.
This valley is unusually unspoiled. Read the rest of this entry »