April Fools' Day 2020 expected as date for new unitary councils creation

The management problems at Northamptonshire County Council led government to invite all Northants councils to submit a proposal to restructure the current two tier system.
The management problems at Northamptonshire County Council led government to invite all Northants councils to submit a proposal to restructure the current two tier system.

March 31 next year could be the last day of existence for Northamptonshire’s county, district and borough councils with the new unitary authorities coming into being on April 1.

Those are the dates the eight Northamptonshire councils are working to as plans move ahead to scrap the existing two-tier system and replace it with two new unitary councils covering the north and west of the county.

The unitary arrangements are being made after the government ordered the councils in spring last year to consider a new form of local governance after the near financial collapse of Northamptonshire County Council.

Seven of the councils voted reluctantly last August to abolish themselves, with Corby Council voting against the plan after asking residents what they thought.
But the unitary is not a done deal as the secretary of state for local government James Brokenshire still has to make a final decision.

His consultation ended last Friday (Jan 25) and the secretary of state is expected to make an announcement before the Parliamentary recess at the start of April.

Speaking at Kettering town forum meeting last night (Jan 28) Kettering Council’s executive director Lisa Hyde said according to current timelines the Northamptonshire councils would cease to exist at five to midnight on March 31, 2020, with the new unitaries being vested at midnight on April 1.

She told a member of the public: “ As a customer you should not feel it. It is for us to deliver it. Our measure is you should not feel that change on April 1.”

Elections to the new unitaries are expected in May 2020.

Many details of the new unitaries are still to be worked out. There will need to be agreement on headquarters for the two new councils, plus consensus on big issues such as the delivery of adult and children’s services. Council tax harmonisation will also have to be decided.

If the secretary of state approves the new unitaries a new structural change order to create the new councils would need to be agreed by both Houses of Parliament.

The councils are working to the timeline of July for the change order.

The order brings existing district and county services together and will also allow the setting up of two shadow authorities which would run from the summer until the new unitaries come into being in April 2020.

Within 14 days of the structural change order coming into force all borough, district and county councillors on councils that would become the west and north unitaries would need to get together.

Labour opposition leader at Kettering Council Mick Scrimshaw, who is also a county councillor, said he had concerns about how quickly things need to be done.

He said: “There is still a huge financial issue when we are setting the budget on the timescales here.”

Answering a question from a member of the public about what happens to staff Lisa Hyde said: “ This is a big change and change does destabilise.

“We have made a commitment to our staff that we are going to be reassuring but realistic. We are having regular staff briefings and staff morale is still quite high.”