Council leader Jonathan Nunn on reluctantly backing unitary authority plans

Council leader Jonathan Nunn has expressed his reluctance at voting through the unitary authority proposals last night.
Council leader Jonathan Nunn has expressed his reluctance at voting through the unitary authority proposals last night.

The word ‘reluctantly’ was on the lips of a lot of councillors at Northampton Borough Council’s extraordinary meeting last night.

And it was used to encapsulate the overriding feeling given by members of the Conservative administration when it came to backing a scheme that effectively ended the council’s existence, to be replaced with a new unitary authority that will provide all services under one roof.

There was much debate in the Guildhall chamber about the road that led the borough council to this position, much of it focused on the choice, or lack of it, given to the council by central government.

Leader Jonathan Nunn said there was virtually no other option but to back the proposals, even if done so with a heavy heart.

He said: “We didn’t want it, we didn’t initiate it and we don’t know for sure that it will solve everything.

“We can't stop this, whether we like it or not. The only question is whether we want to stand by and watch it happen, or get involved. I don't like it, but that's the situation we're in.”

Opposition councillors from Labour and the Liberal Democrats called for the Tories to ‘grow some backbone’ and vote against the plans. They wanted to see Northampton become a unitary in its own right, a plan scuppered in Westminster.

The alternative narrative put forward by those on the Conservative side was that it would be a risy game to be left out of plans that will proceed regardless - now that more than two of the eight councils in the county have backed it.

Councillor Nunn added: “Voting against this is saying that we don't want to influence the future and that we want the county council to sort it out for us. It also says that we are condemning this town to a lesser future than it deserves.

“We hope that we can make this something that delivers better services for people and there’s a heck of a lot of work to be done to make sure that happens. But it’s better for us to be at the table fighting for what’s best for our residents.”

When it comes to those residents, only 6,000 people responded to a consultation on the changes, out of a county population of 700,000. So could the proposal realistically have the ‘backing’ of the public, with such a poor turnout?

“It’s had attention in the local and national press, and people have been encouraged to take part in it,” added Councillor Nunn.

“Yes, it would have been nicer to hear from more people. But I don’t think people worry about who exactly provides their services, they just want it done well.”

The proposals for the two new unitary authorities will be submitted to Whitehall in the coming days. It will form a new pathway for Northampton to share its local government in 2020 with Daventry and South Northamptonshire, both councils of which will vote tonight (August 30).

Both have their reservations about joining forces with the town, so Northampton councillors will be watching what’s said with great interest, even if the vote itself is now made meaningless.