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.