EXCLUSIVE: Little hope of Northampton becoming a unitary authority when council boundaries are ripped up in 2020

Councillor Nunn met with other district and borough leaders this week.
Councillor Nunn met with other district and borough leaders this week.

The leader of Northampton Borough Council says there is virtually no chance of the county town becoming a separate unitary authority when council boundaries are redrawn in two years' time.

Last month Government inspector Max Caller recommended replacing all eight councils in Northamptonshire with two unitary authorities by 2020.

Northampton Borough Council's leader, Councillor Jonathan Nunn, says the town will not become a standalone unitary authority.

Northampton Borough Council's leader, Councillor Jonathan Nunn, says the town will not become a standalone unitary authority.

The new councils would be responsible for everything from street sweeping to social services and would save taxpayers around the county around £20 million a year by optimistic estimates.

One of the new super councils, Mr Caller said, should look after the north and east of the county - with a second comprising of Northampton, Daventry and South Northants - looking after the south-west.

The leaders of all the districts and boroughs only have until July 28 to decide how the boundary lines should be drawn.

But leader of Northampton Borough Council, Councillor Jonathan Nunn, has confirmed the town will almost certainly not get its wish of becoming a separate unitary authority.

Councillor Nunn said: "We as a town have a history of being a unitary authority and we are the county town. All this points to the idea that we are able to govern ourselves.

"But that does not seem to be on the table.

"We are incredibly doubtful it will happen now."

Councillor Nunn met with the leaders of the other six district and borough councils in the county this week to discuss how to divide the new boundaries.

But the Government requires each unitary authority area to have a population of at least 300,000 people.

If Northampton were to go alone it would need to expand its borders by "one parish" in each direction. But that would leave Daventry and South Northants having to form a council with Kettering and Wellingborough in the north and east.

The districts of Daventry and South Northants together would simply not have a big enough population to become a stand-alone unitary authority.

"We have talked with the Government and they are saying that a 300,000 population is absolutely cast in iron," added Councillor Nunn.

It is now highly likely the county will be divided into two as per Mr Caller's recommendations - even the though Daventry's leader Chris Millar said he had serious reservations about being joined to Northampton, a town that accounts for around 40 per cent of the county's entire adult care bill.

Councillor Nunn said the tight timescale for setting up the new authorities was "extremely challenging".

Dorset, for example, took nine months to present their bid for unitary status to the Government.

The "toxic debt" held by the collapsing Northamptonshire County Council - including some £60 million in yearly PFI contract repayments - is also a major concern among the leaders.

That debt will be passed onto the two new unitary councils, but it has not yet been decided how it will be divided. The Government is unlikely to accept a request to write off the debt, Councillor Nunn said.

As for the next two years council leader now face the challenge of retaining their best staff with all eight councils on the verge of disbanding. Senior level redundancies, he added, will inevitably happen during the merging process around 2020.

As Northampton Borough Council will disband in 2020 - the borough's 2019 council elections are almost certain to be cancelled.

But Councilor Nunn said he was confident the district and borough leaders could come up with a plan by mid-July.

He said: "Sometimes when a crisis comes your way, you just have to react.

"That's where we are.

"But the council leaders are keeping in contact on a regular basis."