Expert says unitary plans for Northamptonshire are ‘lunacy’

The council headquarters at One Angel Square in Northampton
The council headquarters at One Angel Square in Northampton

A local government expert has described the proposal to replace Northamptonshire’s eight councils with two unitary authorities as ‘lunacy’.

Colin Copus, who is a local government lecturer at De Montfort University in Leicester, said the restructuring of local governance in Northants being ordered by central government will not be a solution to the county’s problems.

It is possible that Northamptonshire’s eight councils will be replaced by two large unitaries after former Secretary of State Savid Javid declared in April that the two-tier system had to change following the financial failings of Northamptonshire County Council.

A countywide public consultation is currently being carried out about the two unitary proposal.

Mr Copus said: “It is lunacy to replace the councils with two unitaries.

“This gives the government the ability to say we are dealing with this.

“But the unitaries will be too big.

“If being bigger is better than why did the situation occur at Northamptonshire County Council?”

He added: “The reasoning often put forward for unitaries is that if there are fewer councils it will be cheaper.

“But research over the past 50 years has shown that this is never the outcome.

“The responsibilities to provide the services don’t go away.

“We need financial changes to stop more Northamptonshires happening.

“If you restructure you still have the same problems.

“The solution is to give local government a raft of new financial freedoms.”

The academic said the 40 per cent funding cuts from central government to local governments since 2010 had been part of NCC’s problems along with a number of other issues including mismanagement of budgets.

He said the current funding system for local government which is made up of central government grants, business rates and local council tax levies was also part of the problem.

He said: “We have the narrowest range of funding in Europe and once you turn down the levels as has happened with central government grants then you start to get big problems.

“Northamptonshire may be the first council to reach tipping point but I don’t think it will be the last.”

The eight Northamptonshire councils have until August 31 to submit a joint bid to Secretary of State for Local Government James Brokenshire.

Currently all are saying they will act together and submit a bid for two unitary authorities.

Northamptonshire residents have until July 22 to voice their opinion on the proposed unitary restructure.

Visit www.futurenorthants.co.uk or fill in a paper copy available from libraries and council offices.