Just one council in Northants needed to put unitary bid to the Government

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Only one of Northamptonshire’s eight councils needs to vote for the unitary proposal for it to go forward to central government for consideration.

A series of votes will be taking place in council chambers across the county next week as elected councillors are asked whether they agree with plans to replace their authority with a unitary council.

After many weeks of intense work and debate the leaders and chief executives of the councils announced on Friday (August 17) that they would be putting forward to councillors a bid for two unitary councils, one in the north and one in the west.

If none of the councils decide to back the proposal then according to the agenda being considered by Northampton Borough Council on Wednesday (August 29) ‘there are no such next steps as the Secretary of State will not be able to implement reorganisation under the chosen legislation without a proposal.’

The report says: “The proposed submission now being offered is judged by leaders and chief executives to best fit the guidance and, hopefully with strength in numbers, the best that can be expected to have influence with government.

“It is highlighted though that, legally, only one principal council need submit a proposal for it to be considered by the Secretary of State.”

The proposal is that Corby, Wellingborough, East Northants and Kettering councils will form to join one unitary and Northampton, Daventry and South Northamptonshire councils will join to form another unitary.

The north unitary would be the smaller of the two and have 343,614 residents compared with 401,996 in the south.

Each of the eight councils will also be asked to put forward £500,000 towards the cost of the next steps such as setting up a shadow unitary board in 2019.  

The unitaries are likely to be in place for May 2020.

If a council votes against the bid it may not have a seat at the discussion table about the new authorities, even if it votes to put forward the £500,000 in funds.

If a bid goes forward to central government a Northamptonshire Central Programme team will be set up to oversee the lead up to the shadow authorities.

A countywide consultation had 6,287 responses, which is less than one per cent of the Northants population.

More than 80 per cent agreed that governance had to change but just 37 per cent said two unitaries was the answer.

Corby residents also took part in a separate consultation paid for by the borough council at a cost of £7,000.

The result was much less favourable to change or reducing the number of councils.

Leader of Corby Council Cllr Tom Beattie said: “There is a democratic process to follow that means all councils will have this debate before deciding whether to submit the proposal.

“Corby Borough Council will meet on Thursday, August 30, so that our members can take part in these vitally important debates.”

The government’s suggestion that Northamptonshire replace its current two-tier system with a unitary model came after the near financial collapse of Northamptonshire County Council this spring.

The authority is now working on a scheme to reduce all services to a bare legal minimum in order to save up to £70m.