Government approves Northamptonshire council changes but extends deadline

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire has approved Northamptonshire's bid to disband its eight councils and replace them with two unitary authorities has been successful.
Communities Secretary James Brokenshire has approved Northamptonshire's bid to disband its eight councils and replace them with two unitary authorities has been successful.

The face of local government in Northamptonshire will change forever after the government approved the formation of two new unitary councils today (Tuesday, May 14).

Secretary of State James Brokenshire confirmed that the proposals to abolish Northamptonshire County Council, and the seven district and borough councils across the county, would go ahead.

In a written statement laid before Parliament, Mr Brokenshire said: “I have concluded that the proposal meets our publicly stated criteria for local government reorganisation.

“That is if implemented I am satisfied that the proposal would improve local government and service delivery in the area, has a good deal of local support and the area of each new unitary represents a credible local geography.”

It brings to an end a long period of uncertainty over whether the proposals that were submitted to Westminster last August would be implemented. Local leaders had become worried that Brexit was delaying the process.

Now, work will begin to see whether the two new councils can be formed in time for the intended deadline of April in two years’ time.

Crucially, however, Mr Brokenshire has stipulated that a children’s trust must be formed to look after child social care in the county, in order for the unitaries to go ahead.

He has also extended the initial deadline recommended by government inspector Max Caller last year in his report into the failing county council.

The heads of the eight councils across the county will now have an extra year to disband the current system and launch the two unitaries.

Instead, in 2020, elections will be held to vote councillors onto two ‘shadow authorities’ – rather than the current district and borough councils.

“Those so elected would be members of the new councils when these go live in April 2021,” said the secretary of state.

“Elections to parish councils will proceed as scheduled in May 2020. I intend to confirm these electoral arrangements shortly after hearing any views the district and county councils may have on this.”

Northampton Borough, Daventry District and South Northamptonshire will merge to become West Northamptonshire; while Kettering, Corby, Wellingborough and East Northamptonshire will join forces to become North Northamptonshire.

It means that all council services will be under one roof, whereas before the county council was in charge of services such as education, health and social care, while the borough and district councils looked after waste, recycling and planning applications.

South Northamptonshire Council leader Ian McCord said: “I welcome the decision from Government at long last.

“Ministers have taken twice as long to read and decide on the proposal as they gave us to put the bid together.

“The election of the shadow council and a 2021 start date was something I asked MHCLG to consider a year ago, so I cannot now claim disappointment.

“We will now use the time wisely to prepare the four councils for the new unitary structure in the West.

“Our experience with Cherwell and South Northants integration tells us that the best way to do this is by bringing everyone with you.

“We have been developing a plan for this scenario over the past few weeks and we will be ready.

“We now must seize the opportunities that a new council will present to us.

“The reasons for this decision are well known and today is about looking forward and ensuring that our residents get the best possible local government available.”

James Averill , Local Democracy Reporting Service