Northampton bids to free itself from ‘yoke’ of the county council and become a unitary authority

A map of the district and borough councils in Northamptonshire, courtesy of Northamptonshire County Council.
A map of the district and borough councils in Northamptonshire, courtesy of Northamptonshire County Council.

Cross-party support was received to scrap the county council and establish a unitary authority in Northampton at the Guidhall last night - vindicating more than a decade of opposition campaigning the move.

Calls to disband Northamptonshire’s current two-tier council system have been made in the last three Labour manifestos at the borough council.

But despite years of being told it would not receive government funding - it now looks more likely than not that it will go ahead.

Last night borough councillors unanimously backed a motion to begin discussing how it will become a unitary council over the next few years; a move some predict could save the taxpayer £80 million a year in Northamptonshire.

Leader of the council, Councillor Mary Markham (Con, Park) said; “I believe the time is right, I believe an opportunity has come along and we should embrace it fully.”

Labour group leader, Councillor Danielle Stone (Lab, Castle) said: “It is important that we free ourselves from the yoke of the county council.

“Northampton is a wonderfully diverse place, we need to be able to look after our own citizens in the way we see fit.”

Currently there are seven district and borough councils in Northamptonshire responsible for things like waste collection, car park management and parks maintenance. The over-arching county council handles highways, tips, adult social care and schools.

A unitary council would mean one authority would handle all of local government services in Northampton.

The current “two-tier” system has been in place in the county since 1974, but a report by the borough council’s chief executive to last night’s meeting said that system is no longer “fit for purpose”.

His paper said the borough council was facing a “significant downturn in resources” in the coming years.

But while Tory run councils in The county have dismissed calls to set up unitary authorities until last week, the report claims the passing of the Government’s Devolution Act in January has changed the debate.

Recent plans for a devolution deal in Oxfordshire have been “regarded favourably” in Whitehall, it states, which has also prompted councils in Northamptonshire to follow suit.

Mr Kennedy’s report makes it clear that however local government is divided in the county, Northampton would have to have a separate unitary council as it is “so significantly different in needs and character” to the rest of the county.

Cabinet member for finance, Councillor Mike Hallam (Con, Headlands) said: “if the Government is saying it is time to look at unitaries - it’s time to look at unitaries.”

It is no clear now how the boundary of a Northampton unitary would look.

However several councillor last night said they would be in favour of expanding the current borough borders to take in areas such as Moulton.

Heads of all the councils in the county are set to hold a summit today on disbanding the two-tier system.