Legislation to create two unitary authorities in Northants to go to Westminster

Council's offices, One Angel Square.
Council's offices, One Angel Square.

Legislation which will kick start the transition to two new unitary councils in Northamptonshire will finally be laid before parliament in October.

Local leaders had been frustrated with the delays in signing off the ‘structural change order’ – a key document which effectively lays out the legislation of transitioning from the county/district/borough councils to the two new authorities.

County council leader Matt Golby, in his report to council on September 19, said: “The structural change order has been signed off the Secretary of State for local government [Robert Jenrick].

“I had previously lobbied some of our MPs highlighting the need to make progress with the laying of the order so this announcement is very much welcomed. We were also informed the order is due to be laid before parliament in late October.”

The process will take six to eight weeks and involves debates by MPs and Lords committees before a final motion is put back to parliament.

A letter from government minister Luke Hall, to all the leaders of the Northants councils, also confirms subject to parliamentary approval, the May 2020 elections in Northants will be elections to the shadow unitary authorities. This effectively means residents would be voting for candidates who would start representing them one year later when the unitary councils are officially launched on April 1, 2021. Before that, the councils will run in the background to ensure a smooth transition.

Elections to the existing district and borough councils have been postponed for a second year. It means incumbent councillors will remain with the authorities until they are abolished. Some councillors elected as far back as 2015 will have served six-year terms.

Some councillors had reservations over the process.

Leader of the county Liberal Democrat party, Chris Stanbra, said: “I feel in the dark and excluded throughout this. I welcome the current minister is getting his act together. I understand a draft structural change order has been shared, but it would be good if all members could be sent that.”

Councillors also questioned what would happen if a snap general election was called by the government, meaning parliament would be dissolved.

James Averill , Local Democracy Reporting Service