Northamptonshire unitary council plan ‘may not save money’

Proposed unitary authority boundaries for Northamptonshire
Proposed unitary authority boundaries for Northamptonshire

Northamptonshire councils have revealed a bid to central government for two unitary authorities but the authorities say the new system may not save money.

Details were released on Friday (August 17) about the plan to reorganise local governance in Northamptonshire as a result of the financial crisis at the county council.

The county would be split into north and west – with South Northamptonshire, Daventry district and Northampton town councils becoming ‘West Northants’ and the rest becoming ‘North Northants’.

The individual councils will vote on the bid in a series of meetings next week with only two authorities’ backing needed for it to be sent to the Government by the deadline on August 31.

South Northamptonshire Council leader Ian McCord said: “Let me make it crystal clear– I am beyond angry that we have been bounced into this position, all following Northamptonshire County Council’s financial crisis.

“My heart wants desperately to join the protests against this way forward, but my head recognises that something has to be done.

“The best interests of local residents and businesses always come first for me, and that is why I am with huge regret minded to use my vote so we can sit round the table and positively influence the future, rather than instead voting to protest from the outside and leaving the voice of local interests unheard in the rooms where the big decisions are being taken.”

All eight Northants councils had been invited by then-secretary of state for local government Sajid Javid in March to work together on a bid following the financial failing of Northamptonshire County Council.

The report, commissioned from PWC by all eight councils, says the bid is not being put forward ‘out of a positive ambition for this radical structural change, but instead out of a pragmatic and responsible approach to the Government’s clearly-signalled direction of travel’.

It continues: “We believe that the option that best meets the criteria set out in the then secretary of state’s invitation on March 27, 2018, is for two councils across Northamptonshire: one in the north to cover the area of four district/borough councils (population: 343.6k) and one in the west to cover the area of the three borough/district councils (population: 402.0k).”

The financial challenges being left by Northamptonshire County Council’s crisis is also recognised – twice the council has been force to halt much of its spending and is looking to make up to £70m in cuts.

The report states: “In drawing together our proposal to the secretary of state, it has become obvious that, whilst local government reorganisation can achieve a level of cost savings, it will not, in itself, lead to the creation of two new sustainable unitary local authorities.

“Indeed, it potentially risks only redistributing the existing financial instability of NCC across two new organisations, unless steps are taken to address the existing cost and income challenges.”

The unitary bid was put out to public consultation with 6,000 responses from across the county, less than one per cent of the population.

The report says: “The consultation commissioned by the councils has demonstrated widespread public support for the restructuring of local government in Northamptonshire, although the specific proposal for two unitaries received varying degrees of support.”