South Northants Council votes in favour of unitary authorities ‘with a heavy heart’

South Northamptonshire Council met at The Forum in Towcester yesterday evening to vote on the local government reorganisation
South Northamptonshire Council met at The Forum in Towcester yesterday evening to vote on the local government reorganisation

South Northamptonshire Council has become the latest council to vote in favour of its own abolition to make way for two new unitary authorities.

Councillors met at The Forum in Towcester yesterday evening (Thursday), and replicated almost all the other local councils by backing the local government reorganisation proposals.

Politicians are calling for transparency as Northamptonshire’s council leaders begin 18 months of talks to thrash out the details of how the new unitary councils will run.

With today’s (Friday) two-unitary bid being submitted to the secretary of state, the countdown to unitary governance from May 2020 has now begun.

What happened at SNC’s meeting yesterday?

Legally only one council was required to support the scheme in order for it to be submitted to central government, and with six councils having already backed it prior to the meeting the vote, the meeting was effectively meaningless.

But much has been made by councillors across the county this week of what they perceive as the ‘cost’ of not getting on board and helping to shape the proposals, which will see all eight current councils abolished.

South Northamptonshire was no different, with the Conservative leader of the council Ian McCord saying: “We either vote to go along with the almost inevitable conclusion of two new unitaries, in so doing stand a good chance of positively influencing the future services our residents receive, or else, we vote to shout angrily at the tide demanding that it stops coming in.”

But independent councillor Steven Hollowell said: “If the county council had been a unitary authority in the first place it would not have prevented this mess.”

Councillors eventually voted in favour with 28 councillors voting for the proposal, six against and two abstaining.

The submission, which will see all eight current councils dissolved to make way for the two new unitary authorities, has now been submitted to government. The local councils expect a response from Whitehall by autumn.

Councillor McCord continued: “The interests of our residents will be better served by us taking our seat around the table. By being able to make the best of this situation as the huge amount of work begins to plan delivery of vital public services that will shape our area for generations to come.

“A vote against, would, in my view, have cast us out to the sidelines, and in so doing deny our communities the voice that they, need and deserve. A voice they elected us to put on their behalf.

“But despite my fury and at times gloomy mood, I do still have a sense of hope and optimism that mustn’t be entirely lost.”

Daventry District Council also backed the proposals last night, while Corby Borough Council became the only one of the eight councils to reject the proposals.

So what’s next?

Leaders from Northamptonshire’s eight councils will start meeting from next week to begin the mammoth task of reorganising the current borough and county council system into two super councils.

Jobs, delivery of services, council headquarters, redundancy, assets and liabilities of each of the councils are just some of the matters which will need to be dealt with.

Each council has initially agreed a collective sum of £4m to help with the bid and it is thought that teams of consultants and central government staff will aid existing staff to come up with some suggestions.

So far unitary talks have involved just the eight council leaders and their council chief executives but now that the bid has been submitted, councillors who are not at the discussion table are asking for more information and the opportunity to scrutinise.

County councillor and Kettering borough councillor Mick Scrimshaw said: “If collectively in Northamptonshire we can learn one thing from what has happened at the county council it should be that there needs to be more transparency.

“If we are only told the result of the conversations that is going to be tricky for councillors to scrutinise.”

The councillor has called for regular updates from each of the councils, a call which has been echoed by Corby Labour councillor Mark Pengelly who has requested a running tally on the funds being spent by each council for the transition to unitaries.

Lib Dem county councillor Chris Stanbra also said he would have liked more information from the meetings held this week about what the next steps include.